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HKUST launches first social media lab in Asia

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) launched Asia's first social media lab Wednesday, with donations and sponsorships tallying HK$3 million.

Dubbed the HKUST NIE Social Media Lab, the research lab specializes in studying social media related culture and technologies and aims to bring collaborations between the academic circle and the commercial sector, according to the lab in a statement.

The lab focuses on R&D in the areas of next-generation social media systems and cyber-physical society related applications and networks, said James She, director of HKUST NIE Social Media Lab, who is also a graduate of HKUST. "Our signature demo shows a technology that allows smartphone users to capture and share images on a digital signage board," he noted.

Collaboration with commercial partners

To foster collaboration with the commercial sector, the lab has forged partnerships with several firms including Turner Broadcasting System, PCCW, and Hong Kong-based dining portal operator Openrice.

"We will share our high traffic data with the lab to identify user behavior and develop new applications that provide better dining recommendations," said Jan Wong, general manager at Openrice. "By working with the lab, we aim to identify patterns based on users' behavior, their locations, and search patterns."

In addition, the lab is set to work with the Cyberport in building a video-based mobile social network -- an electronic platform for students and potential entrepreneurs to showcase their latest technologies and development.

"Many of the initiatives that the Cyberport supported were originally university research projects," said Herman Lam, CEO of Cyberport. The collaboration will allow us to approach potential entrepreneurs at an earlier stage and provide them with support in development."

Lam added that the Cyberport will also provide digital media facilities to support R&D projects at the NIE Social Media Lab, as well as to develop workshops and academic programs with HKUST's Electronic and Computer Engineering Department.

Lack of laws protecting social media consumers

While the use of social media might help local companies expand their businesses, there is a lack of laws protecting social media consumers.

At a press conference of the Social Media Week 2012 held on Monday in Hong Kong, Francis Fong, chairman of Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing urged the Hong Kong government to update its laws and regulations as social media gains popularity. "People are increasingly concerned as there were recent cases of consumer complaints against firms selling group buying coupons when they are about to close their businesses," he noted.

Social Media Week is an annual event aimed to engage people in conversations around emerging social media trends, the organizer said in a statement. This is the second year that the Social Media Week is held in Hong Kong, with more than 40 events in the five days from Feb 13 to Feb 17. The event is also being held at the same time in 11 others cities including London, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo, and Toronto.


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