A Chance for You to Give Some of My Money to Charity

A few months back, I helped start a little company, SpinforGood, that offers a new way to give to charity while having fun. It’s not legal in the U.S. to play games like slots and blackjack for real money online, but it is legal to play those games online for charity. So it’s our hope that by hooking up people who like to gamble online with charities, we can let people have fun while doing a whole lot of good.

We are running a special tournament today and tomorrow. In this particular tournament, I personally donated $1,000 of my own money to the prize pool to give people an extra incentive to participate. Which charities get my money (and yours) will be decided by the tournament winners. So for a $10 donation, you can have fun gambling and potentially win thousands of dollars for the charity of your choice.

What’s At Stake in the Aereo Case? Maybe the Future of the Cloud

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a major technology case, ABC v. Aereo. The case attracted a huge amount of attention – “Aereo” was the #1 Google search on Tuesday. And that isn’t really surprising. What the Court decides in Aereo could have profound effects on the future not only of television, but of the Internet as well.

Aereo’s business model is clever and, potentially, very disruptive. As they have done since the dawn of television, the major networks – ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX – broadcast their signals over the air. You can receive these signals with a digital antenna – the modern equivalent of rabbit ears – and millions of Americans who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite still do.

Aereo is nominally in the antenna business. Aereo owns thousands of tiny digital antennas – each about the size of a dime – on the roof of a building in Brooklyn. In exchange for a monthly fee that ranges from $8-$12, an Aereo subscriber can dial into one of these antennas to watch whatever she wants.

Child Trafficking and the Internet

Chatting with a seatmate on a flight, I learned she was attending a conference, hosted by Shared Hope International, on domestic trafficking in minor children. Naively and optimistically, I asked if this problem has been diminishing.  No, quite the contrary.  Why?  The reason appears to be economic, having to do with technological change and technology transfer.  With the internet, it is much easier to engage in transactions — nothing needs to be done face-to-face, thus reducing the risk to traffickers. Also, organized crime is getting involved since the trade is so profitable, as at-risk children can be traded repeatedly (unlike an ounce of crack cocaine). With some modifications, an established drug network can be used as a child-sex network.  Disgusting, horrible, and a negative side-effect of technological progress.  (HT: JM)

Challenging the Bing-It-On Challenge

Did you find this blog post through Bing?  Probably not—67% of worldwide searches go through Google, 18% through Bing.  But Microsoft has advertised in a substantial TV campaign that -- in the cyber analog to blind taste testing -- people prefer Bing “nearly 2:1.”  A year ago, when I first saw these ads,  the 2-1 claim seemed implausible.  I would have thought the search results of these competitors would be largely identical, and that it would be hard for people to distinguish between the two sets of results, much less prefer one kind 2:1.

When I looked into the claim a bit more, I was slightly annoyed to learn that the “nearly 2:1” claim is based on a study of just 1,000 participants.  To be sure, I’ve often published studies with similarly small datasets, but it’s a little cheeky for Microsoft to base what might be a multi-million dollar advertising campaign on what I’m guessing is a low six-figure study. 

To make matters worse, Microsoft has refused to release the results of its comparison website, Bingiton.com.  More than 5 million people have taken the Bing-It-On challenge – which is the cyber analog to a blind taste test.  You enter in a search term and the Bing It On site return two panels with de-identified Bing and Google results (randomly placed on the right or left side of the screen).  You tell the site which side’s results you prefer and after 5 searches the site reveals whether you prefer Bing or Google. (See Below)

Microsoft’s soft ads encourage users to join the millions of people who have taken the challenge, but it will not reveal whether the results of the millions are consistent with the results of the 1,000.

Is Twitter Making Kids Smarter?

In the Globe and Mail, Clive Thomas argues that all the time kids spend on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs may be making them better writers and thinkers.  Thomas cites the work of Andrea Lunsford, an English professor at Stanford, who recently compared freshman composition papers from 1917, 1930, 1986, and 2006 and found that, while the average rate of errors hasn't changed much since 1917, students today write longer, more intellectually complex papers:

In 1917, a freshman paper was on average only 162 words long and the majority were simple “personal narratives.” By 1986, the length of papers more than doubled, averaging 422 words. By 2006, they were more than six times longer, clocking in at 1,038 words – and they were substantially more complex, with the majority consisting of a “researched argument or report,” with the student taking a point of view and marshalling evidence to support it.

“Student writers today are tackling the kinds of issues that require inquiry and investigation as well as reflection,” Prof. Lunsford concluded.

No Online Sex Please, We're British

According to a BBC News report:

Most households in the U.K. will have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it, David Cameron has announced. ...

Mr Cameron warned in a speech that access to online pornography was "corroding childhood."

The new measures will apply to both existing and new customers.

Mr Cameron also called for some "horrific" internet search terms to be "blacklisted," meaning they would automatically bring up no results on websites such as Google or Bing.

You could spend a week reading the comments, which are quite heterogeneous.

FREAK-est Links

1. Is male fertility declining? Or do we need more data?

2. The internet industry is considering adding over 1,000 new domains, but some are worried about infrastructure effects.

3. Harry Potter novelist J.K. Rowling's crime novel hits #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, less than a week after she was revealed as the book's author.

4. So you want to invest in the (legal) marijuana industry?

5. How long is the average PhD dissertation? Econ lands on the short side.  (HT: Eric Jones)

6. The new era of music: how much does Spotify pay its artists? Next to nothing.


In a new blog post, Stephen Wolfram lays out some of the data from Wolfram/Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook project. He looks at average network size;  how network size varies with age, gender, and location (among other things);  and, our favorite, what people talk about on Facebook at different ages:

People talk less about video games as they get older, and more about politics and the weather. Men typically talk more about sports and technology than women — and, somewhat surprisingly to me, they also talk more about movies, television and music. Women talk more about pets+animals, family+friends, relationships — and, at least after they reach child-bearing years, health. The peak time for anyone to talk about school+university is (not surprisingly) around age 20. People get less interested in talking about “special occasions” (mostly birthdays) through their teens, but gradually gain interest later. And people get progressively more interested in talking about career+money in their 20s. And so on. And so on.

(HT: Justin Wolfers

A History of Facebook's New Search Engine

Steven Levy of Wired provides the "inside story" of Facebook's new search engine, Graph Search:

For years now, Facebook watchers have wondered when the company would unleash the potential of its underpowered search bar. (Nobody has feared this day more than Google, which suddenly faces a competitor able to index tons of data that Google’s own search engine can’t access.) They have also wondered how a Facebook search product might work. Now we know. Graph Search is fundamentally different from web search. Instead of a Google-like effort to help users find answers from a stitched-together corpus of all the world’s information, Facebook is helping them tap its vast, monolithic database to make better use of their “social graph,” the term Zuckerberg uses to describe the network of one’s relationships with friends, acquaintances, favorite celebrities, and preferred brands.

Are Online Friends as Valuable as Real Ones?

New research (gated, sorry) by John Helliwell and Haifang Huang suggests the answer may be no, especially for those most in need of friendship. Depending on your perspective, this may strike you as a) revelatory or b) from the Dept. of "Duh." The abstract:

A recent large Canadian survey permits us to compare real-time and on-line social networks as sources of subjective well-being.  The sample of 5,000 is drawn randomly from an on-line pool of respondents, a group well placed to have and value on-line friendships.  We find three key results.  First, the number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being (SWB) even after controlling for income, demographic variables and personality differences.  Doubling the number of friends in real life has an equivalent effect on well-being as a 50% increase in income. Second, the size of online networks is largely uncorrelated with subjective well-being. Third, we find that real-life friends are much more important for people who are single, divorced, separated or widowed than they are for people who are married or living with a partner.  Findings from large international surveys (the European Social Surveys 2002-2008) are used to confirm the importance of real-life social networks to SWB; they also indicate a significantly smaller value of social networks to married or partnered couples.