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Meet the stars of Instagram

When Instagram was named South Africa’s fastest growing social network, a surprise was who emerged as its biggest stars. However, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK reveals the real local heroes of the photo sharing network, and what makes them tick.

It may not be the biggest social network in South Africa, but Instagram is growing at a pace rarely seen in the world of online sharing. In the past year, it grew by 133 per cent in South Africa, from 1,1-million to 2,68-million users, according to the newly released SA Social media Landscape 2016 report.

Instagram started life as a photo-sharing app for iPhones, but has become a new frontier in photography and in the lives of celebrities. It is the latter who dominate the network locally, with two TV personalities, Minnie Dlamini and Bonang Matheba, each having more than half a million followers.

The next five highest-followed users are also in the entertainment game. All have one thing in common: most of the images they post are of themselves.

It is only at number eight that we find creative content being posted, and that is where we begin to see the true stars of Instagram emerge. The 8th most followed South African on Instagram, Gareth Pon (or @garethpon), is also the most followed photographer in the country, with close to a quarter million people on the lookout for his highly creative and original techniques.

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Gareth Pon’s Instagram home page

He is followed at number 10 by landscape photographer Craig Howes at just under 200 000 followers, and then a clutch of another five photographers in the top 20. Pon is also founder of an organisation of South African “Igers” – serious Instagramers – which has grown to more than seven thousand members since it began in 2013.

He himself makes a living as a globetrotting photographer, with most of his work coming off the back of his Instagram profile – and from major brands’ growing awareness of the power of the medium.

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Craig Howes’ Instagram home page

“Instagram has only started being utilised as a platform for marketing this year,” he says. “Many brands are just playing games around the space and have failed to execute Instagram as a platform for marketing. We all have a long way to go, because it’s such a new space, but if you speak to the right people and use the right perspectives, then you can use it in the most unique ways.”

His active role in building a community around Instagram is an indication, however, that he regards people as a priority.

“I believe that Instagram has a great way of showing people that they can be creative without needing to be too hard on themselves. Hundreds of smaller communities have sprung up and there are ‘instameets’ happening all the time. I just wanted to let those people find a place where they could spend time with others who have a common passion.

“The other reason I did this was to expose the beauty of South Africa to the world, in a small way. “

He pays little attention to the media personalities whose selfies and egos dominate Instagram in South Africa.

“If you engage with the platform on an international level, you very quickly realise how huge it is within the photography and creative space. All the divas, personalities and egos may have a large following, but ultimately most of them will never ever publish a beautiful image.”

Ironically but not unexpectedly, Pon is taken more seriously outside South Africa than inside. It is partly a mark of the immaturity of the platform in South Africa, but also of its rapidly increasing importance globally.

“South Africa unfortunately carries very little respect for Instagramers. I’ve worked with some reputable brands on an international level – Nike, Absolut Vodka, Mercedes, CNN, to name a few. To be honest I’ll rarely take on work in South Africa, because it consumes so much time where I could put the same time into gaining more international traction.”

Nevertheless, he remains committed to the local Instagram community.

“The initial inspiration was discovering the beauty of our cities again. As an international community we find ourselves making connections on a global scale; there are friends in every city and there is always someone who can show you the beauty of their city. I like to believe that the Igers South Africa community is the friendliest you’ll meet in the world.

“My hope is that as Instagram and the community changes, we’ll begin to see and embrace a new way of capturing South Africa. We’ll see our stories come alive through images and, as we discover our stories, we’ll see South Africa captured in a way it’s never been captured before.”

Inside the igers

The igersouthafrica Instagram account is curated by University of Cape Town postgraduate student Dean Horwitz, better known on Instagram as @mediamandean. He relaunched IgersUCT in 2014 as a space for sharing photos taken at UCT, and also helps out with IgersCapeTown.

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Dean Horwitz’s Instagram home page

“On a personal level, the biggest benefits are that you get to meet new people who share the love and passion for photography, which often translates into immediate friendships,” says Horwitz. “You get to attend instawalks and instameets, which offer opportunities to take photos of unique and different locations as well as an opportunity to meet people who you follow online. These meets and walks offer a fantastic opportunity to improve your photography, learn from other people and occasionally to work with some incredible brands.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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A screenshot of Arthur Goldstuck’s Instagram home page.

Top 7 South African photographers on Instagram

1. @garethpon (Gareth Pon) 246 000

2. @craighowes (Craig Howes)195 000

3. @levonlock (Levon Lock) 139 000

4. @unclescrooch (Ofentse Mwase) 136 000

5. @roywrench (Roy Potterill) 132 000

6. @rowaneva (Rowan Eva) 116 000

7. @ciden (Jacob K) 106 000

Hone your Instagram creativity

Gareth Pon has taken Instagram to a level of creativity that most casual users and followers never encounter, let alone produce. His greatest wish, he says, is that ordinary users learn some of these techniques, or at least attempt to take and post a creative photo. He has created a concise Instagram branding course on a learning site called Skillshare, at http://skl.sh/1MjuTs2. He also recommends two apps to edit images: Snapseed and VSCO

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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