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The next level of social media analytics

Prof. Ebrahim Bagheri builds technology to help companies make better use of data
By: Dana Yates
September 28, 2017
Ebrahim Bagheri

Photo: Ebrahim Bagheri, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his research team work with industry partners on R&D analyzing large-scale digital “breadcrumbs.” Photo: Christopher Manson. 

Ryerson University researcher Ebrahim Bagheri has dedicated his career to building technology that enables machines to understand social content the way humans do.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) recently named Bagheri the NSERC/Warranty Life Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Social Media Analytics.

A professor of electrical and computer engineering and a Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Software and Semantic Computing, Bagheri is also the director of Ryerson's Laboratory for Systems, Software and Semantics (LS3). There, Bagheri and his research team work with industry partners on R&D projects involving the analysis of large-scale digital “breadcrumbs” – the deluge of customer- or user-generated data that’s now available to companies thanks to smartphones and the internet.

It's not enough, however, to simply have access to that data. Decision makers must make sense of it – for instance, be able to seamlessly identify patterns in consumer behaviour before making data-driven business decisions.

That's where Bagheri’s research program can help.

Through his IRC, Bagheri has partnered with Warranty Life Inc., a North American company that manages retailers' product-protection plans. The firm, which has worked with Bagheri in the past, will support his latest project, which is primarily focused on building next-generation technology to analyze social media.

Currently, Warranty Life uses data from on-the-street consumer surveys to recommend specific warranty programs to their clients. A fine balance must be struck with the plans; they must generate a considerable amount of customer satisfaction, but not lead to an excessive number of claims.

"Our goal is to eliminate the need for Warranty Life to conduct surveys," says Bagheri. Instead, the analytics technology will evaluate and categorize product-related information and consumer behavioural patterns from social media in order to make recommendations to Warranty Life.

"This social media analytics research will help Warranty Life understand how it needs to structure its warranty programs and where it needs to market them to prospective clients," Bagheri says.

The Industrial Research Chair has a value of $1.5 million over five years, supported by NSERC, Warranty Life and Ryerson University, giving a boost to strategic research fields that will meet important industrial needs.

As part of his CRC work, Bagheri is developing a self-adapting software technology that can react in real-time to changing requirements, failures and data loads. In particular, the software built through this technology will be able to self-heal – that is, fix system failures and find ways to work around those problems without human intervention. 

As an example, Bagheri points to online classified advertising services. When a user searches for apartment rentals in a specific neighbourhood, the service will draw from multiple online data sets to provide recommendations, including real estate listings, school ratings and local crime rates. If one of those systems goes down, however, Bagheri's software will ensure users still get the recommendations they need by automatically finding a viable alternative service for the information.

Bagheri has a big-picture perspective of the potential impact of his work. "My goal is to help the booming information technology and big data community in Canada and prepare the best and brightest personnel to enter the field. Their work will make a great contribution to the Canadian economy," he says.