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.
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.
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.
In the Globe and Mail, Clive Thomasargues 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.
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.
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.
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.
I blogged yesterday about a Department of State (N.Y.) government website page that only accepts information during business hours. You offered several other similar examples (many of them government sites as well) and possible explanations. We also received, via comment and e-mail, an explanation from Edison Alban, press officer for the D.O.S. (BTW, his name could be considered a pretty good aptonym, since Albany is the capital of New York.)
He begins by objecting to the post, particularly the headline, which was “This Website Only Open During Business Hours”:
The New York Department of State’s Division of Corporation website is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Division of Corporation does not shut down its website during non-business hours.
If you happen to manage a Limited Liability Corp (LLC) in New York State and need to file your Biennial Statement, you might follow the directions sent to you in the mail and go to the state’s website for conducting such business: www.ebiennial.dos.ny.gov.
But if you try this on, say, a weekend, here is the message you’ll see:
An article in Chronicle of Higher Education explains how the increase in online courses has made cheating a lot easier. For example, Bob Smith (not his real name) successfully arranged a test-cheating scheme with several friends. The tests “pulled questions at random from a bank of possibilities” and could be taken anywhere, but had to be taken within a short window of time each week:
Mr. Smith figured out that the actual number of possible questions in the test bank was pretty small. If he and his friends got together to take the test jointly, they could paste the questions they saw into the shared Google Doc, along with the right or wrong answers. The schemers would go through the test quickly, one at a time, logging their work as they went. The first student often did poorly, since he had never seen the material before, though he would search an online version of the textbook on Google Books for relevant keywords to make informed guesses. The next student did significantly better, thanks to the cheat sheet, and subsequent test-takers upped their scores even further. They took turns going first. Students in the course were allowed to take each test twice, with the two results averaged into a final score.
“So the grades are bouncing back and forth, but we’re all guaranteed an A in the end,” Mr. Smith told me. “We’re playing the system, and we’re playing the system pretty well.”
You deliver things daily to my doorstep that I didn’t know I wanted, that I didn’t even know existed, but which instantly put a lapidary glow on a humdrum day.
The latest example concerns my father. His name was Solomon Paul Dubner; he died when I was 10; he was a newspaperman; I wrote about him at length in my first book, for which I thought I’d read everything he wrote.
“[A] non-profit organization aimed at creating dialogue among members of the local community. The organization’s coffee house hosted presentations and open dialogues about a number of topics, including social, economic, and political issues, local politics and government, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, visual and performing arts, health, religion and spirituality, psychology, labor issues, education, morality, and the nature of dialogue. While controversial topics were often featured at the Dialogue Coffee House, the atmosphere tended toward conversation rather than debate. In addition to open discussions and presentations, the coffee house also provided a space for underground films, musical performances, and plays as an impetus for dialogue.”
Last week, the New York Times ran an interesting and important op-ed by Stuart Green, a law professor, who argues that although illegal downloading of songs or videos from the Internet may be wrong, it’s not really “theft” in the sense that the term has been understood historically in the law. Nor is it theft according to the moral intuitions of ordinary people (as Green’s own research with psychologist Matthew Kugler shows), who draw a sharp distinction between online file sharing and ordinary theft, even when the economic value of the property taken is the same.
The investigators recognised an event that affects everyone’s sleep: when the clocks go forward for Daylight Saving Time. Prior evidence suggests we lose on average 40 minutes of sleep per night following the switch, as our body rhythms struggle to adjust.
I am fascinated by the Stanford online courses in machine learning and artificial intelligence. My first inkling of them came when quite a few of my students started taking the artificial-intelligence class. Olin is very small, only about 400 students, so I realized that these online courses must be large. But I almost fell over when I saw that enrollment varied from 66,000, at the low-end, to 160,000.
Sebastian Thrun, who co-taught the artificial-intelligence course to 160,000 students, is now leaving Stanford teaching in order to teach courses to 500,000 students for free. What an inspiring goal!
A blog reader sent a message to her congressman, Tim Walz, complaining about SOPA, the bill that aims to protect intellectual property rights online that has sent many internet folks into a tizzy.
Here is the response she got from Congressman Walz:
…SOPA approaches the problem as a criminal matter when in fact, study upon study shows that online piracy is best dealt with as an economic matter. Instead of using the Justice department as a sledgehammer amongst the delicate weeds of the internet, corporations must embrace the free market and adapt their business models to compete in a new reality. The ability to adapt and compete is the cornerstone of capitalism, we should promote this rather than rushing to insert ourselves in the market in ways that could severe disrupt internet commerce and progress.
Now, I don’t 100 percent agree with this answer, but I love the spirit of it – especially coming from a Democrat! That last sentence sounds like the argument you would get over faculty lunch in the University of Chicago department of economics.
Supporters of stronger intellectual property enforcement — such as those behind the proposed new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills in Congress — argue that online piracy is a huge problem, one which costs the U.S. economy between $200 and $250 billion per year, and is responsible for the loss of 750,000 American jobs.
These numbers seem truly dire: a $250 billion per year loss would be almost $800 for every man, woman, and child in America. And 750,000 jobs – that’s twice the number of those employed in the entire motion picture industry in 2010.
A reader named Clark Case encountered this wi-fi login window at a Doubletree hotel in Orlando. Paging Chris Anderson? Eh … probably not. While there might be some reasonable explanation — is the 24-hour connection ad-supported maybe? — my guess is it’s a simple error.
In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone,” we looked at how hitchhiking is essentially a market. Specifically, as Levitt puts it, it’s a “matching market” where supply (a person who’s willing to give a ride) matches up with demand (a person who needs a ride) in natural equilibrium. Over time, that equilibrium, as facilitated by people thumbing on the sides of roads, eventually vanished.
But the supply remained; actually it increased — as the average number of passengers in a car during the work commute went from 1.3 in 1977, to 1.1 today. (Click here for more data.) And as gas prices have steadily risen, and the economy flat-lined, the demand has seemingly come back. Enter the Internet as the new facilitator.
As many of you have pointed out in emails and comments, an entire online ecosystem of ride-sharing ventures has cropped up in the last few years. So here are the highlights:
A new article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review written by marketing professors Wendy W. Moe, David A. Schweidel and Michael Trusov sheds some light on how people use the internet to interact with products and with each other, specifically in terms of what spurs and defines social media comments. In recent research, the authors examined the comment ratings and sales of a popular unnamed company, studying 2,436 individuals writing about 200 products. They ask: “[H]ow accurately do these conversations represent the true underlying sentiment of a product’s customers?” Here’s what they found:
Last week we wrote about a new Scientific American Mind cover story that makes the case for a link between internet pornography and lower cases of rape – something we’ve been skeptical of in the past, and remain so today.
A new study from researchers in Norway and the Netherlands offers evidence that suggests the opposite effect, that higher levels of broadband access actually increase the rate of sex crimes.
The study is titled,”Broadband Internet: An Information Superhighway to Sex Crime?” Here’s a full version. And here’s the abstract:
See ADDENDUM (8-3-11; 9:13am EDT) below
A study by AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting finds that people who use Internet Explorer as their web browser are, on average, less smart than those who use other browers. As PC Magreports:
Over a period of around four weeks, the company gave a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) to users looking for free online IQ assessment tests, then recorded the results and browsers used for all participants above the age of 16.
Across the board, the average IQ scores presented for users of Internet Explorer versions 6 through 9 were all lower than the IQ scores recorded for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Camino, and Opera users.
You can buy almost anything online these days — hotel reservations, books, movies, etc. — but how much does reviewer quality matter to online shoppers? A lot, according to research from Anindya Ghose and Panagiotis G. Ipeirotis. In a previous paper, the pair noticed that “demand for a hotel increases if the online reviews on TripAdvisor and Travelocity are well-written, without spelling errors; this holds no matter if the review is positive or negative.” In a more recent paper, Ghose and Ipeirotis find similar trends for products on Amazon.com.
… a New York Times article by Randall Stross about how fast and cheap broadband access is in Hong Kong compared to the U.S.: “Hong Kong residents can enjoy astoundingly fast broadband at an astoundingly low price. It became available last year, when a scrappy company called Hong Kong Broadband Network introduced a new option for its fiber-to-the-home service: a speed of 1,000 megabits a second – known as a “gig” – for less than $26 a month.”
A souvenir store on Unter den Linden in Berlin offers 15 minutes of “free” internet usage. To log in, you go to the counter, get an entry code, and are free to use a PC. Moreover, you can use the code to get 10% off the purchase price of any souvenir in the shop. But unlike some “free” deals that come with tie-in purchases, this is a voluntary tie-in.