There is a really insightful, thought provoking post on BLDGBLOG about how American politics, and politicians, are fixated on the notion that rural, small town America is the "real" America, and its values and problems are the ones that should be of greatest concern, whereas in reality the vast majority of Americans live in urban environments and the domestic problems of greatest importance to the nation are fundamentally urban. The well argued point of the piece is that knowing what it's like to live in an apartment New York City is far more relevant to knowing how to govern than is knowing what it's like to live on a ranch in remote Montana. One of the factoids cited by the post is that there are more World of Warcraft players in the United States than there are farmers.
The fact that there are more WoW players than farmers in the country, I think, speaks to a larger point. There are now far more people in the US that effectively make their livings, spend the majority of their leisure time, do most of their communicating & socializing, and consume most of their media in cyberspace than there are farmers (or firefighters, or doctors, or you name it). While these people are not a coherent demographic group, they share a lot of concerns, have more than a few values in common, and are effectively addressed in more or less the same way - put those things together and you have a group that politicians should court. As today's kids who are natives on Twitter, Club Penguin, Facebook, etc. grow into increased political activity they will become a powerful social force, and possibly a powerful voting block.
TechCrunch notes the first iPhone/Android location-aware MMO, Parallel Kingdoms, is launching soon. I love location-aware games (worked on my first one in 1998!), and I'm a big believer in MMOs on mobile, and a proponent of mixed reality games, but I'm not so sure about this one, despite it being a cool idea on some levels. I have to admit, I haven't played it yet, so my interpretations may be way off base, but ....
Aside from rough graphics, which can be forgiven or overlooked for a lot of games, Parallel Kingdoms has some serious issues. Moving large distances in physical space does nothing to make the game more fun, but certainly makes playing it actively harder and more time consuming. There is no real-world physical tie-in to the online component, so essentially, moving in the real world is just using the world as a cumbersome, gigantic controller for a purely virtual-space game. Of course, the use case, as demonstrated by the company's video, is that people will semi-passively play in a go-about-your-business / tower-defense mode. Maybe, but that doesn't sound like a level of engagement that makes for a compelling experience. On top of that, it is an MMO, so there should be some sort of social component to it, but social games require a certain density of proximate players to work, so a game like this might work in dense city centers and on campuses, but even that is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, cheers to the Parallel Kingdoms peeps for trying something new.
Doing a geocacheing meets Assassin meets MMO for mobile would be pretty interesting. The mechanic practically writes itself, and the business model was obvious 11 years ago....
Danger Room posted that the ODNI's Special Security Center has awarded two contracts to look at "cyber-behavior." On the face of it, this program may be a bit alarming to some, but it's worth noting that it is from ODNI-SSC - the people who control the grant of clearances, not operations people who do the real spying - this isn't the DNI spying on your journey to Outland; it's also worth pointing out that this is maybe a good thing.
Alarm bells may be ringing because one could (rightly) expect the Intelligence Community to misinterpret "foreign national contacts" in Warcraft, for example, and withhold clearances from some potential good hires because they are in a guild with some Syrian and PRC nationals. After all, the government has more than it's share of clueless alarmists when it comes to things "cyber" and especially when it comes to games and virtual worlds. However, if these studies are well done, they may prevent this kind of misinterpretation, and it will be all to the good.
Today's New York Times has an article entitled "Guessing the Online Customer’s Next Want," the basic
point of which is that it giving customers good recommendations is hard.
The article, which is a nice general audience discussion of how Amazon,
Netflix, et al do their recommendations, what some people are doing to
improve it, and why it's hard to get real improvement.
The basic technique that everyone uses is collaborative filtering, and it was invented in the early '90s by my friend and business partner Jeremy Bornstein (he holds the original patent), among others. Collaborative filtering essentially takes a pile of data that a person has generated, compares it to piles of data other people have generated, and looks for similarities and differences. When a person has a highly similar data pile to another person, or better yet, to a cluster of other people who have similar data piles, one can infer that the areas of dissimilarity are potential grounds for becoming more similar - i.e. all these people who seem to share your movie/music/book/pet/whatever preferences have bought this thing, but you don't have it yet: maybe you want it too. It works pretty well, with pretty well being a relative thing. Boosting sales by even a few percentage points is well worth it for most internet retailers.
Despite collaborative filtering's being pretty good, there's lots and lots of room for improvement. And there has been since the early '90s. The basic thing is that, while the technique is fundamentally sound, people have been using the same technique for 15+ years. Every year there are a few startups that have a better recommendation engine, and the major in-house ones get better and better, but these improvements are only little increments. This is mainly because they come from using different data sets, more and bigger data sets, and tweaking well-known algorithms, rather than doing anything fundamentally new.
The Times article didn’t discuss a few things are happening now that will make recommendations a whole lot better soon. While collaborative filtering won’t go away, it will be used in conjunction with other techniques and the quality of customer recommendations will get way better.