Archive for December 16th, 2008

Now here’s a MEATY discussion on Edge.org about the role scientists should play in helping improve the economic conditions.  Chew on this awhile.

Here’s one of my favorite chunks of the discussion lifted from George Dyson’s comments:

Brown, Kauffman, Palmrose, and Smolin have hit the nail on the head. But is it the right nail? When the patient needs first aid, do you ask “is there a modeler in the house?”

Financial systems exhibit the Gödelian incompleteness characteristic of all (sufficiently powerful) formal systems: within the given system it is possible to construct statements (or financial instruments) whose value appears to be sound, but cannot be proved within the system itself. The same limitations apply to models of financial systems.

There is good news and bad news in this. No financial system (or model of such a system) can ever be completely secure and closed. On the other hand, there is no limit to the level of concepts that an economy (or a model of that economy) is able to comprehend.

So, what should we do? Assigning an international team of experts to formulate a global economic model is a worthy undertaking, but can the rest of us afford to hold our breath and wait? We also need Plan B, just in case. Plan B is to nurture new, grassroots economic systems that directly (and honestly) couple the flow of currencies to the flow of goods, services, and information—down to the last bit, and the last dollar, from the bottom up.

“Ten years ago I started a company based on the assumption that people are basically good,” argued E-Bay founder Pierre Omidyar (at the Santa Fe Institute) in 2004. “And now I have the data to prove it.” Instead of putting a dozen scientists in a room to come up with a better model of the existing global financial system, we should put a dozen Pierre Omidyars, Elon Musks, Salar Kamangars, and Jeff Bezoses in a room (with Danny Hillis) and let them actually build one (a new financial system, not another model).

Why is this my favorite?  He seems to be saying, get on with it.  Rather than endlessy try to model things you can’t model, start creating.  I’m not a huge fan of the Omidyar quote, as it’s not an accurate nor useful statement.  However, the idea that we can generate all sorts of new ways to buy, sell, create and generate things/services people want is right. We do it all the time and we need to do even more of it.  It’s about the do.

There’s also a fallacy brought up many times by the various contributors that science and modeling can somehow FIX this.  It can’t.  It helps us explain and make sense of things, but that doesn’t imply control.

Also worth noting is seeing how scientists attack a “real life” problem.  Are they shrinking back from the tough stuff or being realistic in what science and scientific approaches can contribute?

Eric Weinstein answers that question:

To be clear, the world’s markets are going to be analyzed, modeled, and regulated by panels of “experts”. That is not at issue. What is at issue is whether the scientific community has the moral luxury, as some commenters here heartily recommend, to sit this one out and complain from the sidelines when most of the skills needed to debunk seemingly sophisticated failed market theory are scientific in origin. But to believe in one’s own ability to improve a theory and make contributions across disciplines require taking serious risk and I well understand that some may find such risk frightening. I would be happy enough for those who feel sure they have nothing to contribute to avoid such an undertaking.

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All these publishers and platforms aren’t implementing FB Connect to help users, it’s to increase traffic.

Techcrunch asserts:

People may have IDs for the various blogging platforms or commenting systems, but most don’t identify with them. It is a necessary inconvenience. They identify with Facebook or their email because that is where they manage their personal and professional lives.

In addition to replicating the comments on your Facebook News feed, the JS-Kit implementation also supports embedding Facebook photos and YouTube videos directly into the comments. It makes commenting much more personal when you know your friends will see it in Facebook. It also has the potential to reduce the amount of comment trolling and general incivility that has taken over many blog comments (we hope).

I disagree with the notion here. Social networking, widgets, ShareThis, Buzz Up and all these single sign ons aren’t about personal identity, better comments, improving connectivity/making it personal or making it easier on the user.

No publisher would bother with FB Connect if it wasn’t going to increase activity.  Plain and simple.  As publisher you want to get into FB user base and you know that user base is active and going to dump this content everywhere.  Sure, eliminating the login is great, but really most these other services aren’t that challenging to a user who really wants to leave a comment.

Yes, it will increase traffic.  Facebook and Social network connectivity is the new SEO.

And just like SEO did for Google, so social connectivity will do for Facebook – FB is now the cornerstone of a whole lot of publishers traffic.

Anyhoo, nothing groundbreaking in the post.  Just wanted to point out something that might not be obvious about this land rush to see who can put Facebook Connect up first.

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Here are all the compilations from the major news sources for your viewing, reading, commenting pleasure.

What is your favorite moment from 2008?

What was left out of these reviews?

TechCrunch Gadgets of the Year

Time’s Person of the Year

CNN’s year in review

Time’s inventions of the year

Time’s best websites of the year

Time’s Top 10 Everything in 2008

Time’s Top 10 Viral Videos

Yahoo’s Year in Review

Google’s 2008 Zeitgeist

Scientific American Top 10 Science Stories

MSN Entertainment Year in Review

People’s Best of 2008

National Geographics Top 10 News Stories of 2008

VH1’s Best Year Ever

New York Times Best Books of 2008

Rolling Stone’s Albums of The Year

Intel Corps Press Release of 2008 Highlights

NPR Music Year in Review

NPR Best Books of 2008

SI’s Sports Photos of the Year

[I need to find the various sports year in review as well as more music and entertainment.  Ok, fine more politics too…]

More to come as I comb through them.

They are heavily weighted towards the end of the year and they don’t all include the SHOE THROWING?!  Goodness.

I also notice that Hurricane IKE and the like 19 storms that blew through Cuba couldn’t compete with Obama, Mumbai, Earthquakes, Britney Spears and LHC.  Now that’s what helluva a news year when Houston gets blown off the map and we can’t even remember if that was this year or last year.

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The last 7 days of Internet blogging and searches have been dominated by Ponzi scheme debate and definition.

For reference, here’s Google Trends for Ponzi/Ponzi Scheme vs. Britney Spears.  I use Britney Spears as a proxy for actual volume because she’s been a top search term for 8 or 9 years.

Ponzi Searches on the Web

Ponzi Searches on the Web

On Time.com blog, Curious Capitalist, we see the commenters and the author trying to define and assign “good” and “bad” judgments to what happened with Madoff and what’s happening with Social Security.

The problem with all the debate, like many important debates, is that we’re arguing about definitions and phrasing, instead of analyzing the real issues and behavior.

Whether Madoff was running a Ponzi Scheme or whether social security is some enlightened version of one is irrelevant to what we do about the behaviors contributing to the financial mess we’re in.

In almost all the current financial situations (Social security, housing, credit slump, Madoff…), the contigency management is very inefficient.  The rewards and punishments for taking on big risk are many degrees removed from the risky behavior.  The reinforcers produced by the situations get lost in translation between computerized trading, industry memos, and the media.   We’re rewarding behaviors in one context and punishing them in another (spending without transparency – the bailout- is OK, but it isn’t OK for these businesses… which is it?)

The rules are not clear at all and so no one can play by them.

You can’t call any of this irrational either.  it’s perfectly rational to keep investing and spending when you get reinforced (returns on investment) over a long period of time.  You come to expect those returns and habituate to the risk involved in investing in companies, financial products and services that don’t have defined outcomes.  You can’t totally blame the originator of these investment vehicles either as people keep investing, further reinforcing the behavior of the originator.  (I’m simplifying a bit here).

Consider the life of Ponzi. (Find better sources than Wikipedia, but this will do for now because it’s online)  His history can be interpreted in many ways.  What strikes me is how it builds behavior by behavior.  All along the way as people wonder, they continue to make him rich, provide for him, write about him.  Even until his death he still found work, press and basically what he needed.  So, was it a character flaw in his gene code that created the great mail fraud, or was it the contingencies all along the way?

What’s to think this scenario, now played out with Paulson, Madoff, AIG… isn’t going to be played out again and again when we don’t change the environment?  The actors in this play are irrelevant pieces.  It’s the environment (the media, the surrounding people, the culture, the financial system..).

Do I have an answer? No.  You have to chip away by managing contingencies both with your own life and the wider public.  There’s no one set of rules or one policy or a perfect economic system.  We have to constantly pay attention and adjust.

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Here’s another “not really anything helpful” product release from Omniture and the “metrics industry”.

Omniture is extending its SiteCatalyst measurement tool to native iPhone applications, enabling developers and marketers to gain insight on how users are interacting with their iPhone apps, based on real-time information. This should allow them not only to improve the user experience based on analytics, but also make adjustement necessary to generate more revenue by enhancing ad clicks, purchasing and increasing page views.

Having implemented Omniture some 50 or 60 times (against my judgement, and sometimes will (not that I have any)!), I can tell you definitively nothing omniture provides is unique nor worth the cash.

You’ve always been able to track native iPhone apps. Here are the many ways

  • For mostly non-networked apps, simply write a tracker function that dumps data to the app data storage and occassionally send that data back to a remote server
  • Using google Analytics, create a URL scheme and “ping” those URLS on various events in the app that then fire off the google analytics
  • Create your own tracking system using URLs
  • Create your own tracking using custom “pixel” calls
  • ….

The reason I always steer clear of Omniture is that once you’re into a naming convention and particular set up, it’s damn near impossible to change it.  Generally you’re trapped with legacy data, reports and business rules unless you want to redo the whole damn thing.

Tis far better to generalize the data warehouse and create a reporting layer that works for what you need at that time.  Even Google Analytics is easier to abstract that omniture.

Omniture is the big dog and people will continue to get sucked into it for lack of knowing anything else.   Most business intelligence folks who work primarily on the web will have the most experience with Omniture, thus assuring it always gets the nod.  It’s basically the same contigencies that kept Microsoft Office in the lead for so long.  You can teach an old dog new tricks (software), it just takes a really long time (or a really big disruptor).

Who will be the big disruptor in analytics?  Will anyone come up with something substantially better than Omniture and Google Analytics (you can’t compete on price, cause one of them is free!)?

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