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August 08 2013

Podcast: ratings, rankings, and the advantage of being born lucky

Outcomes following random exogenous upvotes and downvotes on message board posts. Image via Sean Taylor.Outcomes following random exogenous upvotes and downvotes on message board posts. Image via Sean Taylor.

Researchers randomly upvoted some posts and downvoted others on a popular message board. The upvoted posts became substantially more popular over the long run. Image via Sean Taylor.

Is popularity just a matter of simple luck–of some early advantage compounded by human preference for things that are already popular? A paper published today in Science offers some insight into the way that popularity emerges in online ratings. Lev Muchnik, Sinan Aral, and Sean Taylor were able to set up a randomized experiment on a popular Reddit-like message board in which they gave some posts a one-point upvote on publication and others a one-point downvote. Posts that were “born lucky” ended up with 25% higher scores on average than those without modification.

In our latest podcast, Renee DiResta and I are joined by Sean Taylor, Hilary Mason and John Myles White to talk about Sean’s findings and about ratings, rankings and reviews in general. Bits and pieces that come up in the podcast:


Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunesSoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

January 17 2013

Yelp partners with NYC and SF on restaurant inspection data

One of the key notions in my “Government as a Platform” advocacy has been that there are other ways to partner with the private sector besides hiring contractors and buying technology. One of the best of these is to provide data that can be used by the private sector to build or enrich their own citizen-facing services. Yes, the government runs a weather website but it’s more important that data from government weather satellites shows up on the Weather Channel, your local TV and radio stations, Google and Bing weather feeds, and so on. They already have more eyeballs and ears combined than the government could or should possibly acquire for its own website.

That’s why I’m so excited to see a joint effort by New York City, San Francisco, and Yelp to incorporate government health inspection data into Yelp reviews. I was involved in some early discussions and made some introductions, and have been delighted to see the project take shape.

My biggest contribution was to point to GTFS as a model. Bibiana McHugh at the city of Portland’s TriMet transit agency reached out to Google, Bing, and others with the question: “If we came up with a standard format for transit schedules, could you use it?” Google Transit was the result — a service that has spread to many other U.S. cities. When you rejoice in the convenience of getting transit timetables on your phone, remember to thank Portland officials as well as Google.

In a similar way, Yelp, New York, and San Francisco came up with a data format for health inspection data. The specification is at http://yelp.com/healthscores. It will reportedly be announced at the US Conference of Mayors with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee today.

Code for America built a site for other municipalities to pledge support. I’d also love to see support in other local restaurant review services from companies like Foursquare, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!  This is, as Chris Anderson of TED likes to say, “an idea worth spreading.”

August 28 2012

March 21 2012

Four short links: 21 March 2012

  1. S0rce -- gorgeous infographics. They purport to let you Think for Yourself which is bald-faced bullshit: the choice of which data to present, and the invisible collection and curation practices behind the data, is the choice of what story to tell and what it will say. That said, it's wonderful to see the numbers (and they are attributed) behind the Republican Primary and Copyright and Piracy Legislation.
  2. Modern HTTP Servers are Fast -- I remember when the best web engineering in the world would still fall over if a box got more than 10 hits/second. Yes, yes, I'm writing this on my grandpa box. Check out the hardware specs of the box these numbers are from.
  3. MIT App Inventor -- web-based app designer. Does not appear to be open source. There is no long-term sustainability for this kind of development environment: when MIT decide "nah screw it, not going to run this any more" or "hmm, maybe we'll charge for it", you're boned--you can download the "source" to your app in a zip file but AppInventor is the only dev environment which can consume it. I hope it'll become the awesome and easy dev environment that Android needs, but I hope they prevent it from being a dead end.
  4. Daily Deals: Prediction, Social Diffusion, and Reputational Ramifications -- we consider the effects of daily deals on the longer-term reputation of merchants, based on their Yelp reviews before and after they run a daily deal. Our analysis shows that while the number of reviews increases significantly due to daily deals, average rating scores from reviewers who mention daily deals are 10% lower than scores of their peers on average. (via Greg Linden)

September 01 2011

ePayments Week: Financial Times bets on its web app

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Financial Times drops iOS app

Financial Times web appThere are at least two big issues involved in The Financial Times' decision to pull its iPad and iPhone apps from the iOS App Store this week: one is about data; the other is about money. The FT, along with other publishers, has complained that the key sticking point in Apple's new requirement that all purchases, including subscriptions, go through the App store, has been the question of who controls the relationship with the subscriber. The publishers see these as their readers, and they want to know everything about them. And when readers upgrade or renew their subscriptions, the publishers want to deal directly with them. The view from Cupertino is different: these readers appear to be iTunes subscribers making an in-app purchase. For delivering this consumer to the app maker (the FT in this case) Apple would like its 30% cut of revenue. That may have been a factor in the FT's decision, though it seems the amount of money it would have had to give up — Robert Andrews at PaidContent.com figured it at $1.63 million at the high end — would have been fairly insignificant to FT's parent company Pearson (and even more so to Apple with its billions in cash).

The FT's withdrawal comes as no surprise. Its online and print versions have been encouraging readers all summer to dump their iOS apps and switch to FT.com's "web app" — its HTML5 site that displays nicely on the iPhone and iPad. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than 550,000 users have the web app. PaidContent's Andrews speculated that the web app's adoption may have been spurred by a promotional offer earlier this summer granting full access to the site. (FT.com is primarily a paid-subscription site, allowing only 10 free articles to registered users every 30 days.)

Lest we wonder if "the pink 'un" knows what it's doing in walking out on Apple and its 200 million store members, we should note that FT.com has run successfully on its paid subscription model for more than 10 years, even during the days when most mainstream news publications believed they could never charge for online content. Some publishers have come around to the FT's model, most notably The New York Times, which resumed charging for full access to online content earlier this year.

What's more, the FT says it hasn't completely abandoned Apple and, according to a Reuters report, still plans to distribute future apps in its store, including one for its luxury weekend magazine, "How to Spend It." Apparently, those are subscribers that the FT doesn't mind sharing with Apple.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Flickr's geofencing: setting access based on location

Last week, I wrote about geofencing in the context of Placecast's service to announce deals and other offers when subscribers enter a virtually delineated space. This week, Flickr rolled out another interesting use of geofencing: automatically setting privacy restrictions on photos based on where they were taken. Flickr's blog explains the new feature, and creating a geofence and linking it to access preferences is a quick and easy process.

Flickr geofence example

Flickr's geofencing is a mashup of two services that its members are already familiar with: geotagging photos and setting limits on who can see them. But in combining these two simple features, Flickr (and parent Yahoo) will offer many consumers the first glimpse of a new degree of control they will gain over the intersection of their digital and physical worlds: setting controls over what happens when they move from one location to another.

As a bonus, there's a nice post on code.flickr describing the details of the feature and the fun process the coders went through to pull it together: "We met at Nolan's house, ate a farmer's breakfast, and brainstormed."

Is daily deal fatigue getting you down?

Robert Hof has a compelling column on Forbes: "5 Reasons Daily Deals are Tanking — and 3 Reasons They're Not Dead Yet." Movements this week among the category's top players would seem to confirm the ambiguity of that headline. Facebook has said it will stop its four-month old Deals program and Yelp said it would scale its program back (CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said "it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns"). Meanwhile, Google appeared to be ratcheting up its Offers program, even promoting an offer on its legendarily sparse home page ($5 tickets to New York's American Museum of Natural History). And Groupon continued to storm toward its anticipated IPO.

I tend to agree with one of Hof's main points: too many offers are for expensive, bucket-list or birthday-party events, like flying in a hot air balloon or learning to scuba dive. Google Offers appears to take a more budget-friendly approach, offering things that people really buy every day. Google launched its Offers in Portland in June with a $3 deal at Floyd's coffee, and it continues to promote cheap recession-friendly luxuries, like $7 worth of frozen yogurt. But even Google Offers suffers from an excess of kayak rental offers.

I have to wonder if all the wine-tasting and helicopter ride offers are part of the reason why Groupon has seen its web-based traffic drop by half since June, as reported by Experian Hitwise. It may be that while there is a continuous appetite for bargains on things we consume every day (like coffee and bread), it's more difficult to sustain interest in endless offers for boot camps and laser-based body slimming.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.

Fence photo: Fence Friday by DayTripper (Tom), on Flickr



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