Thursday 30 November 2017

Podcast Interview with Ray Bernard, SuprFanz

The last GraphConnect conference in New York City was a true blast - sweet memories. One of the highlights for me was a visit to the SuprFanz booth at the Community Corner, where I chatted to Ray Bernard in a 360 degree recording:

Ray and I had been connected indirectly through something called "graph karaoke", which you will learn about a bit later. So, I published the above, but decided that it would be cool to have a longer chat with Ray on our podcast. So that's what we did, and here's the result:

Here's the transcript of our conversation:
RVB: 00:00:02.740 Hello, everyone. My name is Rik, Rik Van Bruggen from Neo4j and here I am recording another episode of our Graphistania podcast. And tonight I've got a super fan on the other side of this Skype call, that's Ray Bernard. Ray's the founder and CEO of And you're based in Toronto, right, Ray?

RB: 00:00:25.124 Yes, we have our development offices in Toronto and sales and marketing in New York.

RVB: 00:00:29.880 Wow. That's great. Thank you for coming online, Ray. I really appreciate it. And maybe you can just quickly introduce yourself. Who are you? And what's your relationship to the wonderful world of graphs?

RB: 00:00:41.572 Yeah. Absolutely. Let me just take it right from the beginning. My name is Ray Bernard. I am founder of SuprFanz. And SuprFanz has a very simple mission. It's to drive or increase live attendance via social media using unique technologies. And what I mean by unique technologies, I mean that of graph databases. It's not as unique anymore, but the way I started the use case was, essentially, I had an opportunity to do a performance at B.B. King. So, I am a musician as well, and so they gave me an opportunity to perform every week and perform live blues music to a room of 120, and so I had to figure a way to drive people to that live event in a very effective way. And really, that's what really spawned SuprFanz. And I created a technology that really worked, and it worked very well using social media. As a matter of fact, whenever I used SuprFanz, I sold out my shows. So I actually have a string of sellout shows at B.B. King and I'm happy to announce that I'm actually going to be hosting the Grammys After Party on January 28th.

RVB: 00:02:02.185 Oh, wow.

RB: 00:02:03.718 Yeah. So I am a musician, but I'm also very much passionate about technology. So I was able to kind of merge both worlds quite effectively.

RVB: 00:02:16.036 Fantastic. So, I saw you guys at the GraphConnect in New York. Is that the type of event that you would also use the social media for or was it mostly music concerts or--?

RB: 00:02:28.206 Absolutely. No, no. So we started with music, right? So it's very hard. The music industry has changed dramatically. It's become a very big challenge to bring people from their couch into a live venue to watch music because of the new change in the Internet and in terms of how live music is being delivered, right? So I needed to do something, that was smarter, that was better and effective, and I did that. And as a result, I became pretty successful at just doing that using primarily Facebook as my primary platform to reach out to my audience. But then, I got an opportunity to work for Neo4j and Karina Waluk asked me to put together a presentation for the community. And so what I did was I put together a presentation called Importing Data using Neo4j. Essentially, I put that presentation together and then marketed it using SuperFans and I really had a big, big turnout. As a matter of fact, we had 456 people RSVP to the meet up in New York at DigitalOcean. I think we actually broke a record in terms of attendance. So I was able to actually use a meetup as my component in terms of my social media apparatus, but use the same techniques that I carried over from my Facebook work. And as a matter of fact, I found the results a lot more effective. I was pretty surprised in terms of the turnout. So, yeah. So, I'm actually--

RVB: 00:04:21.100 So what's the role of Neo4j in all this? How does it work or can you explain it in like a couple minutes?

RB: 00:04:28.539 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So when I was trying to build this application I tracked-- yeah, absolutely. So when I was building this application I did a lot of research on-- since my primary social media platform was Facebook and Facebook used graphs, I thought using the same type of database technology was a good idea. I later discovered that graphs was a great idea, because of the way you're able to describe relationships and nodes. And it worked perfectly for my use case because I'm in the business of event promotion and so basically, I'm trying to establish a relationship between the people attending the event and the event themselves and then market it to them based on that. So it works pretty well in terms of the use case that I have. It provides a very significant role in terms of SuperFans. Not only do we use it to drive our application, but we also use it to orchestrate our application and the resources behind that. For example, when we register a user, that user has a certain amount of services and resources that are provisioned to them and I use Neo4j to represent that in the form of a node and a relationship of that resource.

RVB: 00:05:53.680 Cool. So and why do you think is it such a good fit? What makes it such a good fit?

RB: 00:06:01.328 It's a great fit because I found Neo4j to have a very low barrier of entry when it comes to really understanding how it works. Just tremendous amount of documentation out there and so I was able to get started rather quickly. And I found that Neo4j has a tremendous amount of resources to the community and to the start-up and so I was able to leverage that and in partner with you guys, to great effect.

RVB: 00:06:34.919 And I saw that you guys did something which is very dear to my heart, which is you developed a graph karaoke machine.
Note: because I don't have much of a social life, I created and published a bunch of "graph karaoke's" in the past, also on this blog. It's a silly way of showing and demonstrating how you can use graphs for anything and everything, and have fun... 

RB: 00:06:43.735 Yes.

RVB: 00:06:44.592 Tell me all about that.

RB: 00:06:46.336 Oh, I'm so excited to talk to you about that because you, Rik, are my inspiration for that. We were given the opportunity to present-- because of our success at DigitalOcean and that presentation we were invited to GraphConnect and Karin Wolok suggested that I participate by putting a few karaoke videos together. And when I looked at the process-- yeah, I'm a pretty lazy developer. Wherever I can automate, I try. And so, when I--

RVB: 00:07:21.650 That's a good characteristic for a developer. Right?

RB: 00:07:24.225 Yes, exactly. So when I looked at the process, the process involved me creating a Google document, right, populating that document with lyrics and then, of course, making sure that it had the right rows and columns in the right places, right? And then pointing my database in the application to-- or rather pointing my application to that instance. Now, what I did was-- and she asked me to produce about 20 songs. And I just said, I was like, "Oh, my goodness. This is going to take about a week and a half for me to do." So I decided to create the graph-karaoke machine. And basically what it is-- it's a kiosk, if you will. And it's built on Flash using Python, and of course leveraging on Neo4j. And what I've done is I've created a single page where you can actually enter in the artist's name and the song and that goes out, posts the lyrics, and then we query YouTube and play that song, okay? While that's happening, I'm building the graph in the back, in the database as well using Selenium which is actually automating a browser behind that to produce the graph-karaoke and the relationship between the words, right?

RVB: 00:08:47.054 That's just so funny. I mean, I-- you're right, right? I started doing this graph-karaoke thing as a joke, right? It was a complete joke at a meet up in London I think like four years ago or something like that. And it was just a half-wit joke about graphs. You can do anything with graphs, basically. You can even do karaoke. And then I bump into you at GraphConnect [laughter] and you've actually created a machine for it which--
RB: 00:09:18.378 I made a machine--

RVB: 00:09:18.919 I thought was just fantastic [laughter]. I mean--

RB: 00:09:21.605 Yeah, yeah. It was great but initially I sort of felt that it was an interesting topic, and then we started building the machine and then-- of course I have two data scientists on board, and then we started discussing, "Hey, what if-- we have great way to input lyrics into Neo4j, and Neo4j has tremendous capabilities in terms of data science and providing tools to that effect." So they were talking to me about using NLP to process the lyrics, to look at doing sentiment analysis on songs, and finding out the commonalities between those things. So it was pretty interesting in terms of discussion but it could actually be used as a tool for much more than a toy if you will, right?

RVB: 00:10:20.367 Yeah, sure. Sure. Absolutely. But thank you for doing that. It put a huge smile on my face and it still does so I'm really, really happy about that. And I think it's a cool illustration of what you can do, you know?

RB: 00:10:34.242 Yeah, we have it. We just published it on Github and we have full credit on that, so I'll send you the link after the podcast and feel free to forward that to your members.

RVB: 00:10:48.576 Which we absolutely will. Ray, one more question for you. What's your plan for the future? What is Suprfanz vision? Where are you guys going with graph technology and how do you see the industry evolve in that effect? Any perspectives on that?

RB: 00:11:09.134 Yeah, I think graphs are everywhere and I'm starting to realize that. And the more I'm digging into it, the more I'm realizing that I could leverage graphs. And in my company, I've leveraged Neo4j as much as I possibly can. But from a technology perspective I see us pivoting to doing more event type-- rather, corporate type events from a technology perspective. We're also going to be looking to working with Mark Needham's community graph to leverage that from an open source perspective, and we plan on contributing to that. I think that's an important toolset for us.

RVB: 00:11:52.198 Fantastic. Cool. And any big new projects that you guys are working on right now that our viewers might be attending-- our listeners might be attending, for example? [crosstalk]?

RB: 00:12:02.535 Yes, absolutely. We're going to ask to present at the Strata Conference, which is a big data science conference sponsored by O'Reilly in San Francisco on March 6th.

RVB: 00:12:14.314 Oh cool, very cool. All right. Well we'll include a couple of links to that in the transcription of the podcast, and then I'm sure we'll also have some links to the graph karaoke machine and [laughter] all the different stuff that you guys are doing. So with that, Ray, I think we'll wrap up the podcast. I want to thank you again for coming online and taking the time to talk to me about it and--

RB: 00:12:38.527 Thank you, Rik [inaudible].

RVB: 00:12:40.413 It's been a great pleasure talking to you, and I hope to see you again at one of the future Neo4j events.

RB: 00:12:47.039 Absolutely. Thank you very much, Rik. You've been a very gracious host, thank you.

RVB: 00:12:51.845 My pleasure. Have a nice day, okay?

RB: 00:12:54.506 All right. Take care, bye.

RVB: 00:12:54.794 Bye.
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1 comment:

  1. Here is a link pictures our Digital ocean presentation