Saturday, February 24, 2007

Inkling Featured in the Chicago Tribune

Front page feature of the business section. It's always nice to get a little attention from your home town press. :)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chicago Politics

Here in Chicago, local government is set up not only with a central governing body but Alderman who are responsible for individual "wards" throughout the city - 50 of them in all. You think your street needs cleaning, call the Alderman. Annoyed about a new business going up 2 doors down? Call your Alderman. You get the point.

As you can imagine, this being Chicago, the politics around Aldermanic elections are pretty intense, and these elections are coming up in a few days. Jimm Disspensa, a local government worker, has been blogging intensely about the Aldermanic races but also used Inkling to set up a marketplace for all 50 elections back in December.

The marketplace has been getting heavy traffic as citizens and campaign workers alike pile on to try and influence the results.

What is interesting is how prediction markets are becoming part of the news cycle -- enough so that campaigns are worrying about how they are perceived in the markets as much as they are as the polls. Beyond our experience with this phenomena on a local scale, this is happening on a much larger scale on the popular for-money trading platform InTrade, where with only a few thousand bucks, a particular campaign can skew a market and show their candidate as "the crowd's current prediction." Perhaps there can be counter money involved to offset that activity, but then it simply becomes a matter of who has the most cash and us citizens are left on the sidelines having only a marginal ability to influence the outcome.

How to address this? In the future, I imagine the same people who run markets for elections (us included) will run private marketplaces as well, where the invite list can be controlled and the trading more closely monitored for manipulative activities. This is unfortunate because our own policy is try not to treat people like misfits until they act like it, but in this case, they've been acting like it so something needs to be done.

One day we'll also likely have to deal with this issue in the corporation as well. As these markets become more influential in decision making, who is to say a manager with an agenda somewhere won't go on a covert campaign to influence traders to say a project won't be late or that the product they are responsible for will be the best seller next year. This is no different than the politics that already goes on behind the scenes in all companies, but now there is a forum that makes that process transparent. At least when/if that happens, we can say prediction markets have really arrived as a mission critical tool!

Here is an article in The Reader, a free news weekly here in Chicago about James Disspensa, his blog, and his Inkling marketplace.

ABC7 Announcement Video

I found the segment online about the launch of the ABC7 Futures Market. Here it is (a story and video)

Unfortunately we didn't see it live because we're in Chicago, but it was good to see they interviewed Eric Zitzewitz, a faculty member (and prediction market expert) at Stanford's School of Business about the story. Eric is a user of Inkling Markets for his class. They even had the cool shot of him walking on campus before he spoke to make him look like he had places to go, things to do, people to see! :) And yes, that is me in the other video segments, but please no harsh commentary - I was sick as a dog that day and the experience of being interviewed on camera with a busy newsroom as your backdrop is quite surreal as it is!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

ABC7-KGO San Francisco Launches a Marketplace with Inkling

Tonight on their 6pm news show, ABC7-KGO San Francisco announced the launch of their prediction marketplace, run by Inkling. The marketplace is open to the general public at Markets ABC7 will focus on are the upcoming Oscars and local political, sports, and entertainment markets.

As far as we know, ABC7 is the first major television outlet in the U.S. to launch a prediction marketplace as a way to interact with their viewership. As opposed to polling, viewers can now participate much more actively in expressing what they think will happen in the news. Regardless of whether ABC7 is our client, we find it very exciting a television station has the foresight to interact with the public in this way and we're looking forward to working with them in the coming months.

So feel free to visit their marketplace and trade. As with other public marketplaces we host, it may look different, but it all works the same way so you should feel right at home if you're an Inkling user already.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Our "Wizard of Buzz"

There was a great article recently in the Wall Street Journal about the users who drive sites like digg and reddit. Contrary to what you might think when you visit those sites, there are only a very small number of people who contribute the vast majority of stories. While they have tens of thousands of users, it's about 50-100 who are really the submission engines.

Inkling hasn't been much different. By now we have thousands of registered users on our public site with lots of new people joining every day. But we too have our hardcore user base. The people who trade in a market five minutes after it has been made available and the ones who are day trading while presumably sitting at their day jobs. You know who you are.

We've never actually run any numbers to see who our most prolific traders are, although you can just look at the top traders list to get a clue. These people started out with $5,000 like everyone else and now they're worth hundreds of thousands of inkles.

But in honor of the WSJ article, we did want to call out one person in particular. This guy:

Not only is he a very active trader but he runs lots of markets and gives us invaluable feedback about our application. His knack for finding an obscure bug or nailing us on the one thing we haven't quite gotten to yet but is on our to-do list is uncanny.

So here's to our Portland, Oregon friend whom we still owe an Inkling t-shirt. You're definitely one of our "Wizards of Buzz."

Creating a market just got even easier

Besides a minor aesthetic change to our market publisher, we've also added inline help to almost every field you're asked to complete as part of the process.

When we first launched the market publisher back in May/June of '06, we were getting emails daily about how things worked, bugs, language being unclear, etc. Now it's rare for us to get even one email in a week with a question about how something should work even though the number of markets being generated on a daily basis has been increasing steadily on our public marketplace. It seems we've finally hit the sweet spot where most people are getting the publisher.

Nevertheless, especially for those trying to run a market for the first time, some things can still be confusing. We will continue to iterate on the interface, but field specific help should be useful as well. And thanks to a little .css and javascript, you don't have to go to a new page or open a popup to read it.

Just like everything else, we'll surely iterate to improve our help language, so if you read something and still find it confusing, let us know.

Keeping markets up to date with RSS

Some people who run markets are really good about about updating them with new information as it becomes available, others aren't so much. Now we've made it really easy to keep your market information up to date without lifting a finger after you've created it.

For those of you running markets, you can now put an RSS feed in to the market and it will automatically show the last 3 headlines from that feed. For example, running a market on a political race? Use an RSS feed from a major newspaper or wire service to show the latest relevant headlines.

Although RSS has been around for a long time and is invaluable to a subset of netizens, it has still not reached mass adoption. Nevertheless, with email becoming so untenable, you'll begin to see more use of RSS on Markets. Keeping information in a market up to date is only the first feature of many we'll be implementing in the coming weeks when it comes to RSS so stay tuned.