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Is there really room for many location-based networks?

I've been 'playing' Foursquare on and off for about six months now so it's interesting to see it now gaining much more visibility among the people I see on Facebook and Twitter. Since Beijing support was only added a couple of months ago it's still like the Wild West here with few mayors and much opportunity to stake claims and that's continued to keep me engaged.

Meanwhile, in a recent post, Dare Obasanjo talks about applying being more cautious with accepting friend requests due to the real world privacy implications. That got me thinking about the overall growth potential of the multiple player already here (Gowalla, Foursquare, Loopt and others) and whether Metcalfe's law plays the same role here as in other social networks. With an increased sensitivity to privacy, perhaps it's sufficient to just be a part of the network of people I'm likely to have some reason to share my location with rather than the network that contains everyone. That could set up for an equilibrium with multiple services rather than an inevitable winner-takes-all situation. As a result, it could look similar to the fragmentation of social networking sites across country boundaries (e.g. where different networks are popular in different regions) except at a smaller scale such as city, social group or a combination of the two.

Overall though I have a hard time believing that there's room for parallel set of location-based social networks against the backdrop of well-established social networks. A well-designed and neatly-integrated feature in Facebook (for example) with sufficient controls to declare which subset of friends can see your location seems likely to dominate by momentum alone.

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Education data mining and visualization

From a post titled Education Data Mining and Visualization by David Wiley at BYU:

The first visualization we’ve developed is one we call the “Waterfall.” The vertical axis represents students’ final grades (higher final grades at the top). The horizontal axis represents time, with each cell representing a day in the semester. Each individual row represents an individual student. Finally, the darkness of the water droplet represents the amount of time that student spent that day completing gradable activities.
The result is a lot of information on a specific measure densely packaged into a single glance. education,data,visualization

The correlation between time spent (effort, in other words) and final grade is clearly evident but there's another interesting part of the chart. Around 75% to 85% final grade there's a band which seems to put in consistently less effort overall than the clusters of students above and below it, yet still result in a decent grade. I wonder what characteristics those students possess and whether there are any patterns in the paths their lives then take.

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Daily photo: Sandstorm in Beijing

Sand storm in Beijing

I haven't made any adjustments to this photo. It really was this yellow at 10am this morning during a sandstorm.

Happy first day of Spring!

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Nobody buys gold for the price of silver

I finally got around to reading an interesting paper titled Nobody Sells Gold for the Price of Silver: Dishonesty, Uncertainty and the Underground Economy.

The finding is quite interesting although in consideration, quite plausible. Abstract follows (emphasis is mine):

Using basic arguments from economics we show that the IRC markets studied[trading stolen identities, botnets, etc.] represent classic examples of lemon markets. The ever-present rippers who cheat other participants ensure that the market cannot operate effectively. Their presence represents a tax on every transaction. Those who form gangs and alliances avoid this tax, enjoy a lower cost basis and higher profit. This suggests a two tier underground economy where organization is the route to profit. The IRC markets appear to be the lower tier, and are occupied by those without skills or alliances, newcomers, and those who seek to cheat them. The goods offered for sale on these markets are those that are easy to acquire, but hard to monetize. We find that estimates of the size of the IRC markets are enormously exaggerated. Finally, we find that defenders recruit their own opponents by publicizing exaggerated estimates of the rewards of cybercrime. Those so recruited inhabit the lower tier; they produce very little profit, but contribute greatly to the externalities of cybercrime.
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Daily photo: Recycling transport

That's a lot of styrofoam

There's a whole low-key infrastructure in place for the transportation of used bottles, water barrels, foam, gas cylinders and more. Hopefully it's going to be recycled somewhere.

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Getting Results book

I recently came across a pointer to a book called Getting Results which is available on the web site in draft form while it's being written. I've spent some good amount of time over the last few years really thinking about productivity and efficiency and am always interested in new techniques. My existing time/task management system has been working well enough for quite a few years but definitely has some blind spots and shortcomings.

The first chapter lays out the framework for the system itself, in what I felt to be a clean, concise fashion.

A few of the concepts that I particularly liked:

Time as a First-Class Citizen. In Agile Results, time is a first-class citizen. Windows of opportunity are important. It’s about doing “good enough” for now, and versioning your results. Time changes what’s important. What was important last month or last week might not be what’s important now. That’s the agile part – be responsive to what’s important now. This also includes using timeboxes effectively. For example, rather than try to figure out how long something might take, start by figuring out how much time you want to invest in it. Identify up front at what point do diminishing returns become unacceptable. This will help you cut your losses and figure out how to optimize your time.
Of course this makes complete sense to read but there is a difference between knowing the truth and practicing it. The temptation to just work harder is often very strong but rarely sets up a system for long term success. While I do always enjoy thinking further out towards the horizon, I am yet to see anything other than clear, incremental steps ('versioning results') actually make measurable progress towards it.

One of my other favorite topics - testable outcomes and measurement - also gets a good mention:

Test Your Results. Have a bias for action. Rather than do a bunch of analysis and commit to a big plan up front, start taking action and testing you results. Use the feedback to improve your plans. Testing your results is a way to find the risks and surprises earlier versus later. A simple way to remember this is “do it, review it, and improve it.” You’ll find that action creates inspiration. A lot of people wait for their moment of inspiration before they start, but what they don’t realize is that simply by starting, the inspiration can follow. It’s like going to see a movie and then enjoying it more than you expected.

Tests for Success. Your tests for success answer the question, “What will good look like?” Simply by figuring out the three outcomes you want for the day, the week, the month, and the year, you identify your tests for success. You have an idea of what you want to accomplish and what good will look like. Knowing your tests for success helps you prioritize.

Excellent! Having a plan, working to it and meeting it aren't worth anything if it's the wrong plan. Likewise, heavily investing time, effort and creativity into something that isn't well aligned with a problem at hand can be particularly detrimental to the sense of progress. Catching these patterns early saves so much time later (although that itself is actually quite a hard hypothesis to prove/demonstrate.)

I'm looking forward to reading further.

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