Friday, February 27, 2009

Give and collect tips at Inkling

Thinking about how to incent people, as we just mentioned in our previous blog post, is an important key to the success of your marketplace. Many people like to trade on Inkling for the competition alone, whether it's amongst the entire community or the friends in their friends list. Other people do indeed like more tangible goods, anything from mugs and tshirts to plane tickets and cash.

But even if you do end up offering some prizes, it's yet another task you have to take on: buy the gift certificate, design and get the Top Trader t-shirt made, etc.

So as an experiment, we've introduced the concept of "tipping" to Inkling. Any trader can now tip, with real money, any other trader. Think someone made an insightful comment? Tip em'! Think someone is running a good market? Tip em'!

One 3rd party service that allows this commerce to take place is called Tipjoy ( (also a company from Y Combinator, where Inkling originated).

In fact, a few weeks ago we tipped everyone off (no pun intended) to the fact we were thinking of doing this on our public marketplace.

And the market expressed that there is an 85% probability 50 tips will be made by one month from the launch date of the feature (today). So it felt like something worthwhile to get out there and start doing.

Here are the nitty gritty details about enabling Tipjoy and using it:


The ability to use Tipjoy needs to be turned on by an administrator of the Inkling site that you are using. We've turned it on at our public marketplace for example.

Now that it's on, when you visit anyone's profile page at, you'll see a tip button.

Let's go through an example. I'd like to tip "wstritt" at Not only has he been a top trader for quite some time, he's very helpful in letting us know about markets that need to be liquidated. He deserves more than a tiny "tip" of a quarter, but to get the ball rolling, I go to his profile page and click the tip button:

A box will pop up like the following:

If you don't have a Tipjoy account you can still supply your email address and tip amount here, and Tipjoy will go ahead and create an account for you.

The integration isn't as seamless as we want yet. For example, if wstritt hasn't entered his Tipjoy account info on his settings page yet, he won't know someone has tipped him yet. We are working on making this automatic, but you might want to go ahead and message ("Send message") the user you just tipped letting them know.

Also to make sure you can "claim" tips people are giving to you, you need to have a Tipjoy account and make sure to add that Tipjoy username to your settings page:

This will allow us to prove you are who you say you are to Tipjoy.

And as you collect tips and make at least $5, you can cash out those tips for real money to be paid to your Paypal account or gift card.

We hope this is fun to use, let us know how you like it.

The challenges of getting from here to there

The Economist published an article today about prediction markets with the headline: "An uncertain future - A novel way of generating forecasts has yet to take off."

The article then goes on to discuss some corporate examples (some of whom are Inkling clients) and some challenges that companies have been facing in implementing prediction markets.

While we selfishly would love for the headline to one day read that prediction markets have now grown to be a multi-billion dollar business, in the macro view of the Economist, they indeed have yet to "take off." But I think the headline masks some promising examples within the article itself and what has been going on in the trenches day to day at numerous companies.

Like many evolutions of business management, prediction markets are a challenge to introduce. Especially because one of their byproducts is additional transparency, they are, by nature, a disruptor. Their advantages are many but most companies find they must crawl before they can walk and then run.

"Yet to take off," however, does not equate to "bad idea." The facts are that uptake among companies has been increasing year over year, more business schools are covering prediction markets in their curriculum, industry analysts have begun to track progress in the space, and an increasing number of management consulting firms, market research firms, and system integrators are adding prediction markets to their repertoire of services.

Practically speaking, there is a right way to introduce prediction markets to your organization that will greatly increase the likelihood of their continued growth and usefulness. What I often tell people is imagine yourself sitting in front of your boss after 3 months of piloting an Inkling marketplace. What are some of the steps you need to have taken so moving forward is a no-brainer?

  1. Communicate appropriate success factors at the beginning of the project.
    This may sound weird because they're called "prediction markets," but only focusing on accuracy of the markets is a recipe for failure when you have other benefits that are potentially more lucrative: risk mitigation, exposure of underlying pessimism or over-optimism, real-time ongoing feedback of business performance, increased collaboration between organizational stovepipes, external business partners and customers, and the list goes on.
  2. Identify business process "pain points" where organizational bureaucracy, politics, or even geography is keeping information from flowing as it should or where there are blind spots in what the company knows.
    You've got to prove there is value in doing this, otherwise all you're proving is that you can get a group of people together to use a tool, and there's little value in that.
  3. Utilize the data created by all the trading activity.
    What insights did you gain? Splicing the data demographically is always of interest, i.e. the marketing team was consistently optimistic about X, but the product development team was consistently pessimistic.
  4. Have buy-in from the participants themselves (along with as many executives as you can line up.)
    We just had a client survey traders asking them what they found useful about their marketplace, what they could do to improve, etc. They got lots of positive feedback. That's great ammo.
  5. Don't blow off having a communications and incentives strategy.
    What do people really care about? $25 gift certificates for ice cream or an opportunity to have lunch with the CEO? Prizes are people's first pass at incentives but not always the most appropriate. Getting people passionate about participating often means getting in to their brains, not padding their wallets.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Whenever: an easy way to do cron jobs from Ruby

Since Inkling got started over 3 years ago, we have always used something called a cron job. Cron jobs have been around for ages and are a tried and true way of scheduling things to happen on our servers. Timing out sessions, sending out mail asynchronously, etc.

A cron job is run from something called a crontab file, and though it's not "rocket surgery", it's not the most intuitive thing to use in the world. Especially when you compare how much more intuitive (not perfect, mind you) many facets of ruby, and rails are.

Over time, cron jobs have kind of been tough to keep sorted out. Especially as we keep growing, adding/upgrading servers, etc. The problem of managing our cron jobs came to a head, as Javan was tasked with creating a version of Inkling that could reside behind some corporations' firewalls. When your talking about installable software, having a way to deploy changes to these cron jobs didn't really exist.

Javan knew there must be a better way, so he created Whenever.

Whenever allows us to write all our cron jobs out in ruby and even includes a capistrano task that deploys those changes to cron to our production servers.

Whenever has been taking off in popularity. Today it made the front page of Hacker News ( And on github it has over 185 people "watching" it. Sounds like some other folks really needed something like this too.

Nice job Javan. Very cool contribution.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Get an Inkling MBA Prediction Competition

Today Inkling is launching the first annual MBA prediction market competition at 16 business schools across the country. The competition will be conducted over a 3 month period and will give students the opportunity to see who can make the most (virtual) money by forecasting future business events and executing astute trading strategies.

Inkling is already being used in a lot of business school classrooms and we thought it would be fun to run a competition specifically among this group. Small prizes will be rewarded throughout the competition for good comments in the discussion threads, creating interesting markets, etc. but the big prize will go to the top trader who will get an all expenses paid party for him/herself and 20 of their friends. It should be a nice way to cap a tough school year.

Here are the schools participating. If you're a student and you would like your school included, contact us. There may still be time to get you in.

  • Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern
  • University of Chicago Booth
  • Harvard Business School
  • Cornell Johnson School of Management
  • University of Michigan Business School
  • University of Kansas Business School
  • The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Virginia Darden School of Business
  • New York University Stern School
  • Columbia University Graduate School of Business
  • Duke University's Fuqua School of Business
  • UCLA Anderson School of Management
  • University of North Carolina School of Business
  • University of Minnesota School of Business
  • University of Iowa Henry B. Tippie School of Business
  • Indiana University Kelley School of Business

Monday, February 16, 2009

Marketplace News Get a Makeover

In addition to quick trade we also released an overhaul of Inkling's marketplace news and announcements features.

Getting traders information from outside sources is an important part of keeping a marketplace lively and active. As a marketplace grows, trader's demands for new information also increases. Instead of making traders spend the time searching for information, administrators were increasingly requesting easier and more powerful ways to bring information directly to the traders to make the marketplace eco-system even more valuable.

Our one allowable RSS feed import and crude marketplace announcements system just wasn't fitting the bill anymore, so we made some changes.

  • Want to import a blog written by the head of your department along with a news feed from Bloomberg, Yahoo, and the Wall Street Journal? No problem! Administrators can now import as many RSS feeds as they want to the marketplace.

  • If importing news from 3rd parties isn't enough, administrators can now write as many announcements as they want.

  • Announcements can be "pinned" to the top of marketplace news so they are readily apparent over a period of time

  • A new marketplace news page aggregates all this information: RSS feeds, custom announcements, and sorts it by time

  • In addition to announcements being made available on the marketplace, administrators can choose to email the announcements directly to all registered users in the marketplace.

  • A new navigational element called "News" has been added to provide immediate access to all this information

We hope you enjoy these changes. As always let us know if you have any suggestions for improvement or new ideas we should consider.

Quick trade unveiled

As our venerable and dependable trading interface continues to hum along, we have for some time wanted to come up with an alternative interface power users and new users alike would find even simpler and quicker. So early this morning we rolled out "quick trade."

To access quick trade, you hover over any market in the list of markets and you'll see an icon pop up:

Click on it and the quick trade interface shows up from wherever you are:

Now all you need to do is click the up and down arrows and you're told how much money it's going to cost you to move the chances/number up and down. Click "place trade" and that's it! If you want a little more detail about how many shares this involves you can click on the "see more details" link. And of course you can always use Inkling "classic" trading by clicking "show me detailed trading options..." if you still prefer to be walked through the process step by step.

While this may seem simple to implement, it wasn't. Javan, who worked for us as a contractor for awhile and then became part of our team full-time because he was so good, did the lion's share of the work here. So if any of you Inkling traders in Los Angeles run in to him on the streets, be sure to give him a pat on the back. He's doing fantastic work.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Law of Addition

Adam and I spent time with some great folks at ORD Camp (a conference very much in the style of Foo Camp but strictly for us midwest geeks). We got to see some of the work of Dennis McClendon of Chicago CartoGraphics.

Dennis makes some seriously cool maps. The below were done for a book parents would read to their toddlers. Here's one of Chicago:


And one of Washington, DC:


For these stylized maps, Dennis mentioned that he is of an old school camp of cartographers that start with nothing. A blank sheet of paper. Then he adds to his design until the most minimal and necessary elements are there.

He mentioned an alternative and fairly popular approach is to take a large or "larger" data set of map features and stuff , and then proceed to subtract things from it until you feel only the necessary things remain.

We saw some of those maps that start with a lot and try to go to a little versus his maps that start with nothing. His approach of addition is better.