The start-up that analyses 100,000 social media posts per second

Belfast mathematicians’ Yedup uses algorithms to find information on media streams

Tracy Meharg from Invest Northern Ireland with Paul McWilliams and Dr Martin Spollen, founders of Yedup. Photograph: Brian Thompson

Tracy Meharg from Invest Northern Ireland with Paul McWilliams and Dr Martin Spollen, founders of Yedup. Photograph: Brian Thompson

 

Anyone can hazard a guess about what some in the world of social media might be saying right now about US president-elect Donald Trump.

But there are at least two Belfast mathematician-turned-entrepreneurs who no longer have to guess what thousands of social media fans are saying about Trump at this exact moment in time – because they already know.

Paul McWilliams and Dr Martin Spollen have created a start-up called Yedup which can analyse and extract information on any specific subject from more than 100,000 social media posts every single second.

Yedup uses algorithms to sift out and find exact information on target subjects, sectors and issues in real time from global social media streams.

Its ability to deliver an “instant and accurate insight” on what the social media world is thinking at any moment in time is, according to Spollen, what makes the work of the Belfast start-up “truly ground breaking”.

Emojis

“Our big breakthrough is that we can keep up-to-speed with the ever-changing language and expression used in social media because of our machine learning technology.

“Our systems use artificial intelligence (AI) to evolve continually, we combine statistics and adaptive machine learning to keep pace with the way the world expresses itself – whether it’s through words, abbreviations, acronyms or emojis.

“Our algorithms are also designed to learn the meaning of non-standard strings and new words when they emerge in any global social media conversation,” Spollen says.

It is estimated that at least 1,500 new words and phrases emerge in social media conversations every day.

According to Spollen, who was born in Co Offaly, Brexit is his current favourite example of a word that, until recently, did not exist and is now part of everyone’s daily conversation.

The Northern Ireland start-up has developed a particularly close relationship with Twitter since it was established by the mathematicians in Belfast earlier this year.

Spollen says the team at Twitter have been extremely supportive of it and are one of the social media organisations that Yedup is currently working with to “deliver the next generation of real-time firehose analytics capability”.

Stand-out ideas

Yedup recently beat 17 other start-ups in the North to win Company of the Year at Invest Northern Ireland’s Propel Programme Awards – the programme is specifically tailored to identify and support high potential entrepreneurs with stand-out business ideas.

Both Spollen and McWilliams are delighted with the “vote of confidence” in Yedup and the growing interest it is attracting particularly from hedge fund managers.

The Belfast start-up launched its first product aimed at hedge funds and high-frequency traders back in March.

Its SodaBread product uses Yedup technology to extract investor and consumer views and opinions about financial instruments, companies, industries and markets.

“What we do is give them the edge – we’re giving them price-sensitive information that can help them identify advantageous trading opportunities.

“We’re not exclusive to anyone at this time but we are working with one American fund and what we have been able to do is make sure they are the first to know about issues and events that could affect an outcome.

Ahead of the posse

“This means they’re always ahead of the posse and, for hedge funds, any lead – whether it is five seconds or five minutes – is worth gold to them,” Spollen says.

So, for example, when the first five tweets started to circle last week about Trump overtaking his rival in the race to the White House, Yedup’s team in Belfast were already on the case.

But it is not just hedge fund managers that the Belfast start-up is hoping to impress – Spollen believes its technology has much to offer any business sector from media to banking and potentially government organisations, too.

The next step for them is to scale up their operations and raise additional finance of up to £1 million initially.

Spollen said: “We’re talking to a number of potential partners and funders but we are going to be very choosy – it is not just about the money for us, it is about getting the right partner who can open doors for us.

“We want to stay in Belfast and create jobs, we have a great development community here, but we intend to grow our business and we also need to be in London and Dublin to do that.”

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