Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guest Post on NYCE (Giorgos Zervas)


I was at NYCE 2011 this past Friday. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and productive experience. I feel like I got a conference's worth for the cost of and time commitment of a long commute.

The day started with three hour-long plenary talks, followed by lunch and a poster session, followed by an hour of 10 minute talks, and concluded with two more plenary talks. (And all of that for about $20.)

It turns out a lot can be squeezed into 10 minutes. Halfway into the first speaker's talk, with 5 minutes left on the clock, I was almost convinced he was running out of time. Everyone worked great around the time constraint to succinctly deliver their talks.

The plenary talk roster was varied and exciting (at least by one other account). I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Levin's talk on eBay experiments (pdf of the paper) in part because I was least familiar with it, and in part because I think I can use his key method. Here's the gist: instead of relying on random observations look for experiments that have been conducted on your behalf by market participants. To use his eBay example, auctions have a bunch of parameters: the item, its starting price, its reserve price, and so on. Quite often it turns out you can find sets of auctions ("experiments") that are identical in all but one parameter. This allows you to directly quantify the effect of the varying parameter. To say I wish I'd thought of this is an understatement -- I am trying to convince myself that I actually didn't. (I didn't.)

Of interest -- likely to myself only -- was the passing mention of Swoopo in two plenary talks. Their sudden demise still puzzles me. While writing our Swoopo paper they were running about 200 auctions a day. A few months after EC'10 when I checked again they were running about one hundred. They were responding to reduced demand but why were "entertainment shoppers" driven away? The business model certainly did not die as others have successfully taken Swoopo's place. One possibility is that the barrier to entry in this type business is low. Around Swoopo's peak there were people making money off penny-auction scripts they'd sell for a few hundred bucks. Hundreds of clones sprung. Buy a script and some hosting, run auctions, and ship directly from Amazon. In an interesting parallel the daily deals business also seems to have a very low barrier to entry judging from the hundreds of Groupon clones. I am still kicking myself for stopping data collection after our Swoopo paper was done.
Back to NYCE itself, if there is one thing I'd maybe have wanted to see more of is student talks (especially of the 10 minute variety). I guess the poster session made up for this but as someone with a poster to present I didn't have to chance to walk around and see others'. Which reminds me, thanks to everyone who stopped by my poster, and to the organizers for putting everything together!

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