In this world of automated aggregation engines we can really appreciate the value of someone taking the time to pick through a selection of material, dust off what’s forgotten, and otherwise hold up to the light something to be celebrated.
I listen to Salon.com’s Weekly Download podcasts and while I enjoy the selections, the adverb and simile-rich descriptions by Thomas Bartlett are just as entertaining. Here’s his intro to Brittle Britches by Quien es, BOOM!
Austin band Quien es, BOOM! (the name references Billy the Kid’s purported last words before being shot, “Quien es?”) makes music centered around lovely interlocking guitar parts and intricate — sometimes too intricate — drumming. They clearly put so much thought into the instrumental lines, the discreet but delicious bits of electronic ear candy and the way they interact that it’s a surprise when, two minutes into this song, they bother adding a vocalist (although the vocals are, in fact, quite nice, and in a fittingly fastidiously phrased style).
I lived in Japan for 10 years (I am half-Japanese). In a classic case of poor timing, I showed up in Tokyo just as the Nikkei was crashing and then moved back to the US right before the .com bubble popped. I think I’ll stay put for awhile.
While in Japan, one of my jobs was wiring up the Fixed Income trading floor for Lehman Brothers. It was during the late-night rollouts on the end of a T-1 to NYC that I discovered Usenet, Mosaic, and the rest was history.
Prediction Markets is a relatively new field of study which embraces using speculative markets to make better decisions. The idea is that if you can abstract a complex decision into a commodity which can be traded, and thus priced, the signal that you get back from the market will cut through the noise and lead you to better decision-making.
Wednesday evening Yahoo held a confab on Prediction Markets on the main Sunnyvale campus. We heard from James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, a hugely influential book for me, and Robin Hanson, infamous for his idea that a prediction market could be used to accurately determine the next terrorist attack. We also heard from folks from HP, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo who described how prediction markets are used within their companies. Finally, we heard from a couple of vendors of prediction market software including inklingmarkets which offers a hosted solution for companies interested in setting up their own prediction markets and used the event to announce their beta site, worthio, which applies digg-like voting mechanism to the US stock market.
In a fortunate coincidence of timing, the very same moment 200-odd people were debating the value of running markets to gleen information and the importance of making participation simple in order to get maximum participation, Yahoo Answers was hosting an event for 40-50 of their top moderators right downstairs.
In terms of harnessing collective intelligence, Answers has been a huge success and it was fascinating to see the emotional attachment members of the service have to the site. I was lucky to catch part of the awards ceremony and saw one of the users (I didn’t catch her name or handle) actually hug one of the product managers as she came up to receive her award.
I only wish I had the foresight to invite attendees of the prediction markets confab downstairs to see what was going on. With a basic framework, a few simple rules, and the wonderful platform known as the internet, the 60 million users of Answers had created an incredibly powerful, human-powered Oracle of Knowledge that anyone with a web browser could tap into.
This was the power of community. The emotion and support of those at the party downstairs showed me more than any presentation, metrics report, or banner ad the power that you can tap into if you let people, not algorithms, define your product.
Back in June I worked with a team that hacked together an interface for a simple predictive market in which Yahoo employees with trade shares in projects that would pay out when the project IPO’d by getting released to the public. The idea was that value would go towards projects that the Yahoo engineers thought had the greatest merit. With a quick glance at the top "stocks," executives could see which projects were worth allocation of resources and budget.
The hack was a proof-of-concept and while the project has been noodled on by that hack day team, the concept of leveraging the "wisdom of crowds" to drive decision making has spread out to other areas at Yahoo.
Most recently, Yahoo Autos has released a user-driven version of it’s feedback center that allows anyone to vote on comments. It’s like Digg for the help center and is available for any Yahoo property to adopt for their own site.
Bix (recently acquired by Yahoo) also fits nicely into the predictive markets suite and can basically be looked at as a predictive markets engine for talent. Lip-sync karoke smackdown with user voting.
Finally, Yahoo’s hosting a conference about Predictive Markets and to kick it off, James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, will be speaking. There will be other speakers as well during this seminar which runs from 5:30 – 8pm on December 13th here at Yahoo in Sunnyvale, CA. Admission is free so mark yourself down as attending on the upcoming.org link and come on down!
Leslie Harpold will be counting down the days of Christmas with a new daily entry for her online Advent Calendar. Taking advantage of the medium, she will post a carefully selected graphic and link to pair with a Christmas memory from her community. She’s been at for five years so she’s developed quite a following and today solicits her audience for stories of their own.