Thursday, June 25, 2009

Marketplace Activity Reports Take Two

A few weeks ago we began sending marketplace participants a daily recap of the activity in their marketplaces. The goal was to keep people aware of what is going on even if they aren't actively trading and hopefully entice them to click on something of interest they see.

We got a lot of positive feedback about the reports which in many marketplaces caused increased trading activity, but also some complaints that daily is a bit too often. We've taken the feedback to heart and made a couple changes:

First, instead of listing out every trade and comment for every question which often made for a very long email, we've consolidated to simply say how many trades and comments have been made in each active market. Second, we've tried to provide more interesting information by including the probability of the currently leading answer and the percent change since the last report was sent.

Finally, we've changed the default delivery schedule of these activity reports from daily to weekly, but have left it configurable, so if you want to continue to receive daily updates, you can adjust that setting for yourself right from your marketplace homepage or on your settings page. If you choose to receive the reports on a weekly basis, they will be sent on Thursday's beginning at 3:30pm local Chicago time which is -5 GMT. If daily, they will be sent at that same time each day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This prediction market will now be tweeting

Funny how these things work.

3 years ago when we first launched Inkling, people were clamoring for us to have RSS feeds. Then we were told we weren't doing enough with email, especially for corporate cultures where email is still king, so we introduced new market alerts, expiring market alerts, and most recently, a daily activity feed from the marketplace, all via email.

Now as regular users of twitter, we decided it would be useful for our own purposes (we're traders too) and for others to get tweets about a marketplace.

But we didn't just want to replicate alerts we send via email and RSS, we wanted to add new content as well to the twitter bot to make it more engaging and worthy of people following it. We've set one up for our own public marketplace with the name @inklingpredicts. It still announces new markets and expiring markets, but it also tweets the top 5 most actively traded markets of the day and the current leading answer.

Here's what the bot has tweeted the last few hours:

Minimally, following the bot should provide some nice fodder for those heading out with friends for the evening or to impress your S.O.: "Hey did you know there is a 1 in 4 chance the unemployment rate will start to go down in August?"

Astonishment at your wisdom will certainly ensue.

But the best part is we didn't just introduce this for ourselves. Any public Inkling marketplace can create their own twitter bot by going to the twitter signup page and setting up a new twitter account. Then login to Inkling as an administrator, tell us the bot's username, and it's ready to start tweeting. Just go to your "configure marketplace" page to set it up:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Inkling launches

We just launched a new product today:


It has little to do with our "day job" of running a prediction market platform for companies, but it was something we built for ourselves to use internally and decided it was useful enough we should turn it in to a product.

Basically it's the "ANTI-sharepoint/googlewave/socialnetwork/lotsofoverheadcollaborationtool" - it's just an extremely simple way to collaborate with a project team, friends, family, club, or sports team via email.

Setup a group name, i.e. "[email protected]" with whomever you want to participate, and write to it. We keep a private-only archive of everything you write on the web. You can cc: or bcc: to it, tag your correspondence, search for stuff, and it's secure with both ssl and email encryption.

The original reason we built tgethr was for security reasons. We use a secure chat room every day to work together on minutiae and other hosted tools for customer support tickets, bug tracking, code repositories, etc. but most of those apps send an email when they're updated - convenient, but also insecure.

We also wanted something that was simple. We communicate constantly within Inkling, but also have groups of friends and family we want to easily stay in touch with as well. We found our options to be a google group, basecamp, or using a white label social network. Nice tools, all, but also a lot of overhead for simple correspondence. And let's face it, the vast majority of us are still creatures of email. These apps feel clunky when all we want to do is securely send quick messages back and forth either in front of our laptop or on our iPhones.

So we decided much maligned email is still the easiest way for us to communicate. Why not try and play to its strengths vs. fighting it and forcing a browser experience down our throats?

Inkling Markets is still our love and first born, but hopefully people find Tgethr as useful as we have so far and find ways to put it to good use.

Just like in Inkling you can "try before you buy" and set up a free group.

We're anxious to hear what everyone thinks so don't hesitate to contact us if you try it out.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Inkling Cares

Yesterday in our hometown of Chicago was the annual Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon. Companies, schools, non-profits, church groups, and every other type of group you can think of put together teams to meet up at Grant Park in the morning, then take buses to area schools and playgrounds for a day of manual labor: painting, cleaning up playgrounds, doing some landscaping, etc.

Inkling put together a team and were assigned to the Piccolo school on the city's west side with about 50 other people. The school is named after Brian Piccolo, a back up running back for the Chicago Bears in the late sixties who died of cancer at 26. Piccolo was a great running back, breaking records while at Wake Forest, but he was always a back up while on the Bears, running behind the legendary hall-of-fame running back Gale Sayers. Brian's story was tragic but was made much more famous by the made for tv movie "Brian's Song."

At the school we collectively painted 4 classrooms and two long hallways. It looked pretty nice when we were done, thanks to the several volunteers guiding us through the day doing quality control. To top it off, someone figured out a way to play the radio over the school loudspeaker and tuned it to an eighties station. Manual labor is better when you're listening to "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds on the Breakfast Club soundtrack.

Here's a picture of Nate and myself at the end of the day waiting in the school lobby for the bus to take us back to Grant Park:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

Over the past few months we ran a competition for MBA students to see who would do best in a prediction market over a period of 4 months. Questions were related to global business events and pop culture. 15 schools participated and we had about 150 active traders. Not bad for our first go-around and word of mouth marketing efforts. We learned a lot about how to run it and definitely plan on running another competition in the fall semester coming up.

We ended the competition at the end of May. The top prize was a party for the top trader and 20 of his/her friends. Last night at Nevin's Pub in Evanston, IL, Chris Fletcher from the Kellogg School of Business celebrated his win with a party to watch Stanley Cup hockey.

He sent us this picture of the festivities. Can you tell who he is? :)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Exclusive Access

Because most corporate prediction markets use fake money as their currency, an administrator must think of other incentives besides the ability to make real money. Of course even with fantasy currency, the better you trade, the more currency you accumulate, so it's natural when thinking about how to incent people to participate to offer a reward to the "top trader" in a marketplace.

Unfortunately while sounding good on the surface, this incentive often falls flat as people in positions 5-x feel like they don't have much of a chance of catching up. Unless you have other incentives in place (and you're not creating new markets on a regular basis as Nate blogged about a few weeks ago,) your participation may slowly dwindle.

One incentive that doesn't get much attention is granting "exclusive access" to traders. The most successful format we've seen of this is picking those who are regularly participating in the marketplace, i.e. "20 random traders with 20 or more trades" and inviting them to a roundtable with a (very) senior executive on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. At this roundtable, discuss company issues related to questions being asked in the marketplace. Keep it casual and off the record. Have the executive stress that in addition to carrying out daily duties, participation in the marketplace is another valuable way to contribute to the success of the company. In other words, make people insiders.

This also applies more generally to internal social networks which often have some sort of point accumulation mechanism as an overt incentive to complete a profile, participate in discussions, answer questions, etc. iPods and gift certificates are nice, but think about saving your money. Especially in a large corporation where so much is dependent on your level and title, feeling like a player for an afternoon may be all the reward you need to offer.

Friday, June 05, 2009

yCombinator's Paul Graham (and Inkling investor) on the cover of Inc.

Inkling was in the second crop of start-ups that came out of yCombinator. Back then no one had really heard of these guys. Now they've funded over 100 startups and have many regional copy cats. Even though we're a little biased, Paul's philosophy of making many little bets in his investing strategy vs. fewer big ones really resonates with us. As such, we're glad to see they've really taken off.

We regularly hear from people who are thinking of applying for yC - especially those who aren't doing consumer apps. If you're one of those, feel free to contact us. We're happy to give you an honest and open account of our experience.

Here's the article (click the button in the corner of the viewer to go full screen - it's a much better reading experience):
Inc. Article About yCombinator