Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Week, I Am Part of an Internet Meme

My frequent co-authors John Byers, Giorgos Zervas, and I posted an extended version of a current submission to the arxiv (as people do), which showed up last Friday or thereabouts.  Daily Deals: Prediction, Social Diffusion, and Reputational Ramifications discusses some analysis we did on daily deal sites (Groupon, LivingSocial), including interactions between daily deal sites and social network sites (Facebook, Yelp).  

The work got a plug Monday on the MIT Technology Review. They naturally focused on our most "controversial" finding, and I quote them:

"A Groupon deal might boost sales but, it can also lower a merchant's reputation as measured by Yelp ratings, say computer scientists who have analyzed the link between daily deals and online reviews."

Apparently, many people are interested in statements of that form, especially business types, and that's where the fun started.  We got some e-mails from people who work for firms that use statistical analyses in planning marketing efforts who had seen the article (and wanted our not-yet-released data set).  We noticed the review article was getting tweeted.  We started tracking a tweet feed to find out where else it was showing up.  (As a very partial list, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, The Independent, Search Engine Journal.)  Monday we were worried that people might try to actually call us up and talk with us, but fortunately, that hasn't happened.  Instead of feeling pressured, we've just been able to enjoy watching.  

It's amusing to see how these things spread through the Internet. A lot of sites are just cutting and pasting from the MIT Tech Review. I know this because, in what I personally find to be the most amusing of mistakes, they refer to Giorgos as "Georgia Zervas". Giorgos does seem to have multiple name spellings (he also uses Georgios), but Georgia is not quite right. (It is, however, my new nickname for him*.)  Georgia Zervas, according to Google, has popped up almost 200 times in the last 3 days.  

We weren't really expecting this.  I think part of the reason we didn't expect much reaction is pre-summer we put up a placeholder with some initial data:  A Month in the Life of Groupon.  This didn't seem to get much notice.  Indeed, we had submitted it to NetEcon, and were essentially told by reviewers the paper was too boring.  I must admit I disagreed, then and now, with the reviewers.  But, to be fair, that version of the paper didn't contain the data sets and analysis for LivingSocial, the Facebook Likes, and the Yelp reviews;  it just had Groupon data (though we made clear this was an "appetizer" and more was to come).  John actually completely disagrees with me.  I quote:  "For the record, I agree with the NetEcon reject decision.  They should be applauded for making us do more work."  My take was the bar for a workshop paper was too high if this wasn't sufficiently interesting.  Giorgos wonders if by John's logic we're hoping the paper gets rejected again.  

Also, we didn't get nearly the same sort of attention for our previous similar-in-spirit work analyzing penny auction sites like Swoopo (entitled Information Asymmetries in Pay-Per-Bid Auctions:  How Swoopo Makes Bank).  Daily deal sites are MUCH bigger, and I suppose the results for Swoopo are a bit harder to summarize for mass consumption.

Anyhow, Giorgos will be at the New York Computer Science and Economics Day this Friday with a poster on the subject.  Stop by and talk with him!  (Giorgos recently completed his PhD at BU, and is doing a Simons postdoctoral fellowship with Joan Feigenbaum, while also hanging out some with me at Harvard as an affiliate of our Center for Research on Computation and Society.)   
* Don't worry Giorgos.  I'm kidding.  Sort of.


Anonymous said...

Call me when you make the Wall St Journal.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the data available for download ?

Giorgos said...

Anonymous #1: What's your number? :)

(Granted it's only a WSJ blog.)

Anonymous said...

Mike has it, but save your dime till they print your names ;)

Anonymous #1

Arvind Narayanan said...

I don't find this surprising. Our Netflix deanonymization paper languished in obscurity for an entire year before one day I woke up and found that it had suddenly gone 'viral,' and we were lavished with attention and accolades.

It makes sense if you think about the mechanics of information diffusion (heh): whether or not someone who comes across an article about your paper spreads it further is largely dependent upon a kneejerk reaction whose probability can be greatly influenced by the presence of a linkbait headline or a juicy quote.

In other words, publicity is almost entirely random, subject to the message of your paper exceeding a basic threshold of comprehensibility and interestingness.