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Name: Benjamin Mako Hill
Member since: 2005-06-16 06:25:53
Last Login: 2012-05-17 21:23:02

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1 Apr 2015 (updated 2 Apr 2015 at 01:04 UTC) »

RomancR: The Future of the Sharing-Your-Bed Economy


Today, Aaron Shaw and I are pleased to announce a new startup. The startup is based around an app we are building called RomancR that will bring the sharing economy directly into your bedrooms and romantic lives.

When launched, RomancR will bring the kind of market-driven convenience and efficiency that Uber has brought to ride sharing, and that AirBnB has brought to room sharing, directly into the most frustrating and inefficient domain of our personal lives. RomancR is Uber for romance and sex.

Here’s how it will work:

  • Users will view profiles of nearby RomancR users that match any number of user-specified criteria for romantic matches (e.g., sexual orientation, gender, age, etc).
  • When a user finds a nearby match who they are interested in meeting, they can send a request to meet in person. If they choose, users initiating these requests can attach an optional monetary donation to their request.
  • When a user receives a request, they can accept or reject the request with a simple swipe to the left or right. Of course, they can take the donation offer into account when making this decision or “counter-offer” with a request for a higher donation. Larger donations will increase the likelihood of an affirmative answer.
  • If a user agrees to meet in person, and if the couple then subsequently spends the night together — RomancR will measure this automatically by ensuring that the geolocation of both users’ phones match the same physical space for at least 8 hours — the donation will be transferred from the requester to the user who responded affirmatively.
  • Users will be able to rate each other in ways that are similar to other sharing economy platforms.

Of course, there are many existing applications like Tinder and Grindr that help facilitate romance, dating, and hookups. Unfortunately, each of these still relies on old-fashion “intrinsic” ways of motivating people to participate in romantic endeavors. The sharing economy has shown us that systems that rely on these non-monetary motivations are ineffective and limiting! For example, many altruistic and socially-driven ride-sharing systems existed on platforms like Craigslist or Ridejoy before Uber. Similarly, volunteer-based communities like Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club existed for many years before AirBnB. None of those older systems took off in the way that their sharing economy counterparts were able to!

The reason that Uber and AirBnB exploded where previous efforts stalled is that this new generation of sharing economy startups brings the power of markets to bear on the problems they are trying to solve. Money both encourages more people to participate in providing a service and also makes it socially easier for people to take that service up without feeling like they are socially “in debt” to the person providing the service for free. The result has been more reliable and effective systems for proving rides and rooms! The reason that the sharing economy works, fundamentally, is that it has nothing to do with sharing at all! Systems that rely on people’s social desire to share without money — projects like Couchsurfing — are relics of the previous century.

RomancR, which we plan to launch later this year, will bring the power and efficiency of markets to our romantic lives. You will leave your pitiful dating life where it belongs in the dustbin of history! Go beyond antiquated non-market systems for finding lovers. Why should we rely on people’s fickle sense of taste and attractiveness, their complicated ideas of interpersonal compatibility, or their sense of altruism, when we can rely on the power of prices? With RomancR, we won’t have to!

Note: Thanks to Yochai Benkler whose example of how leaving a $100 bill on the bedside table of a person with whom you spent the night can change the nature of the a romantic interaction inspired the idea for this startup.

Syndicated 2015-04-01 17:18:57 (Updated 2015-04-02 00:15:22) from copyrighteous

More Community Data Science Workshops

Pictures from the CDSW sessions in Spring 2014
Pictures from the CDSW sessions in Spring 2014

After two successful rounds in 2014, I’m helping put on another round of the Community Data Science Workshops. Last year, our 40+ volunteer mentorss taught more than 150 absolute beginners the basics of programming in Python, data collection from web APIs, and tools for data analysis and visualization and we’re still in the process of improving our curriculum and scaling up.

Once again, the workshops will be totally free of charge and open to anybody. Once again, they will be possible through the generous participation of a small army of volunteer mentors.

We’ll be meeting for four sessions over three weekends:

  • Setup and Programming Tutorial (April 10 evening)
  • Introduction to Programming (April 11)
  • Importing Data from web APIs (April 25)
  • Data Analysis and Visualization (May 9)

If you’re interested in attending, or interested in volunteering as mentor, you can go to the information and registration page for the current round of workshops and sign up before April 3rd.

Syndicated 2015-04-01 02:41:06 (Updated 2015-04-01 02:48:01) from copyrighteous

Kuchisake-onna Decision Tree

Mika recently brought up the Japanese modern legend of Kuchisake-onna (口裂け女). For background, I turned to the English Wikipedia article on Kuchisake-onna which had the following to say about the figure (the description matches Mika’s memory):

According to the legend, children walking alone at night may encounter a woman wearing a surgical mask, which is not an unusual sight in Japan as people wear them to protect others from their colds or sickness.

The woman will stop the child and ask, “Am I pretty?” If the child answers no, the child is killed with a pair of scissors which the woman carries. If the child answers yes, the woman pulls away the mask, revealing that her mouth is slit from ear to ear, and asks “How about now?” If the child answers no, he/she will be cut in half. If the child answers yes, then she will slit his/her mouth like hers. It is impossible to run away from her, as she will simply reappear in front of the victim.

To help anyone who is not only frightened, but also confused, Mika and I made the following decision tree of possible conversations with Kuchisake-onna and their universally unfortunate outcomes.

Decision tree of conversations with Kuchisake-onna.
Decision tree of conversations with Kuchisake-onna.

Of course, we uploaded the SVG source for the diagram to Wikimedia Commons and used the diagram to illustrate the Wikipedia article.

Syndicated 2015-02-10 07:09:22 (Updated 2015-02-10 07:13:42) from copyrighteous

30 Dec 2014 (updated 10 Feb 2015 at 19:04 UTC) »

Consider the Redirect

In wikis, redirects are special pages that silently take readers from the page they are visiting to another page. Although their presence is noted in tiny gray text (see the image below) most people use them all the time and never know they exist. Redirects exist to make linking between pages easier, they populate Wikipedia’s search autocomplete list, and are generally helpful in organizing information. In the English Wikipedia, redirects make up more than half of all article pages.

seattle_redirectOver the years, I’ve spent some time contributing to to Redirects for Discussion (RfD). I think of RfD as like an ultra-low stakes version of Articles for Deletion where Wikipedians decide whether to delete or keep articles. If a redirect is deleted, viewers are taken to a search results page and almost nobody notices. That said, because redirects are almost never viewed directly, almost nobody notices if a redirect is kept either!

I’ve told people that if they want to understand the soul of a Wikipedian, they should spend time participating in RfD. When you understand why arguing about and working hard to come to consensus solutions for how Wikipedia should handle individual redirects is an enjoyable way to spend your spare time — where any outcome is invisible — you understand what it means to be a Wikipedian.

That said, wiki researchers rarely take redirects into account. For years, I’ve suspected that accounting for redirects was important for Wikipedia research and that several classes of findings were noisy or misleading because most people haven’t done so. As a result, I worked with my colleague Aaron Shaw at Northwestern earlier this year to build a longitudinal dataset of redirects that can capture the dynamic nature of redirects. Our work was published as a short paper at OpenSym several months ago.

It turns out, taking redirects into account correctly (especially if you are looking at activity over time) is tricky because redirects are stored as normal pages by MediaWiki except that they happen to start with special redirect text. Like other pages, redirects can be updated and changed over time are frequently are. As a result, taking redirects into account for any study that looks at activity over time requires looking at the text of every revision of every page.

Using our dataset, Aaron and I showed that the distribution of edits across pages in English Wikipedia (a relationships that is used in many research projects) looks pretty close to log normal when we remove redirects and very different when you don’t. After all, half of articles are really just redirects and, and because they are just redirects, these “articles” are almost never edited.

edits_over_pagesAnother puzzling finding that’s been reported in a few places — and that I repeated myself several times — is that edits and views are surprisingly uncorrelated. I’ll write more about this later but the short version is that we found that a big chunk of this can, in fact, be explained by considering redirects.

We’ve published our code and data and the article itself is online because we paid the ACM’s open access fee to ransom the article.

Syndicated 2014-12-30 03:05:38 (Updated 2015-02-10 18:32:35) from copyrighteous

My Government Portrait

A friend recently commented on my rather unusual portrait on my (out of date) page on the Berkman website.  Here’s the story.

I joined Berkman as a fellow with a fantastic class of fellows that included, among many other incredibly accomplished people, Vivek Kundra: first Chief Information Officer of the United States. At Berkman, all the fellows are all asked for photos and Vivek apparently sent in his official government portrait.

You are probably familiar with the genre. In the US at least, official government portraits are mostly pictures of men in dark suits, light shirts, and red or blue ties with flags draped blurrily in the background.

Not unaware of the fact that Vivek sat right below me on the alphabetically sorted Berkman fellows page, a small group that included Paul Tagliamonte —  very familiar with the genre from his work with government photos in Open States — decided to create a government portrait of me using the only flag we had on hand late one night.

fellows_list_subsetThe result — shown in the screenshot above and in the WayBack Machine — was almost entirely unnoticed (at least to my knowledge) but was hopefully appreciated by those who did see it.

Syndicated 2014-12-27 23:01:56 (Updated 2014-12-27 23:08:43) from copyrighteous

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