Researchers ranging from psychologists to epidemiologists have wondered for some time whether online, multiplayer games might provide some ways to test concepts that are otherwise difficult to track in the real world. A Saturday morning session at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science described what might be the most likely way of finding out. With the cooperation of Sony, a collaborative group of academic researchers at a number of institutions have obtained the complete server logs from the company’s Everquest 2 MMORPG.
As the researchers who are dealing with this new resource describe it, it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations—with nearly 60TB of data, the standard procedures for tackling social data sets just aren’t up to the job.
Dmitri Williams introduced the project and described how researchers have been approaching various game developers over the years. He paraphrased the conversation with Sony as:
“What do you collect?”
“Well, everything—what do you want?”
“Can we have it all?”
To give a concrete example of the data’s utility, Srivastava described how he could explore the phenomenon of customer churn, something that’s significant for any sort of subscription-based service, like cell phones or cable TV. With the full dataset, the team can now track how individual customers dropping out of the game influenced others who they typically played or interacted with. Using this data, the spreading rate and influence factor could then be calculated, providing hard measures to work with.
In Texas, Robert Allen Stanford was just another wealthy financier.
But in the breezy money haven of Antigua, he was lord of an influential financial fief, decorated with a knighthood, courted by government officials and basking in the spotlight of sports and charity events on which he generously showered his fortune.
On Tuesday, his reign was thrown into turmoil as a caravan of cars and trucks carrying federal authorities pulled up to the headquarters of his company, the Stanford Group, to shut down what the regulators described as a “massive ongoing fraud” stretching from the Caribbean to Texas, and around the world.
Unknown is the status of investments in as much as $8 billion in high-yielding certificates of deposit held in the firm’s bank in Antigua, which the Securities and Exchange Commission, in a civil suit, said Mr. Stanford and two colleagues fraudulently peddled to scores of investors.
Funny how an $8b fraud would be front-page news around the world just a few short years ago, and today it’s just a minor kerfuffle.
This may be the essential Obama gift: making complexity and caution sound bold and active, even masculine… or rather, it may be one facet of a larger gift: what Zadie Smith calls “having more than one voice in your ear.” Notice the canny way that the sentence above turns on the fulcrum of what may be Obama’s favorite word: “but.” What appears to be a hard line – “My view is… that nobody is above the law” – turns out to have been a qualifier for a vaguer but more inspiring motto: “I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking back.” The most controversial part of the sentence – “people should be prosecuted” – gets tucked away, almost parenthetically, in the middle.
It is possible – mistaken, I think, but certainly possible – to dismiss this sentence as a platitudinous non-answer, and if comedians ever overcome their Obama anxiety, this may be his Achilles heel: “The beef, assuming it’s in a port wine reduction, sounds, uh, amazing, but on the other hand, given that the chicken is, ah, locally grown, I’d be eager to try it.” But to underrate the subtlety and appeal of Obama the communicator is to be out of touch with Americans’ hunger to be addressed as adults. Indeed, after “You’re with us or you’re against us” and “Putin rears his head,” such thoughtfulness seems positively worth celebrating.
What’s worth copying isn’t the final product but the attitude. It really is the case that Basecamp is a project management tool that looks and works exactly how 37signals thinks a project management tool should look and work. It is very much unlike any project management software that came before it. They didn’t start with what customers wanted, or with what existing project management software looked like, or by trying to guess what some group of faceless others would want. They designed and built what they themselves wanted, under the assumption that there were some number of other people who would want the same thing.
What drives some people nuts about 37signals is that their products are not for everyone. But they’ll be the first ones to agree with that. Rather than trying to build things that work OK for everyone, they’re building things that work really well for some people. And how often does building something “for everyone” actually work out, anyway?