Category: Web/Tech

Guest blogger

Tyler is off to Paris once again to argue with the French. Knowing Tyler, however, he will continue to blog at only slightly reduced frequency! We are pleased that the great Fabio Rojas, sociologist at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, is back again as our guest.

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Question about blogging software

Does anyone know of blogging software that allows blog posts and blog comments to be rated with the comments rising to the top the higher they are rated? I am thinking of something much like Amazon’s book pages where readers can rate both the books and the comments. The software would have to be flexible. Alternatively, can anyone out there write or modify existing software to perform these sorts of tasks? Email me with leads. Thanks!

How much privacy did you expect?

Have you heard the latest?:, which will launch Monday, allows anyone to secretly track e-mails they send. You’ll see whether someone opens your e-mail, how long the recipient keeps it open – even where geographically the recipient is reading it.

And that’s for only $50 a year, check it out.

How are the pundits responding?

The reaction could be harsh. “It will freak people out,” says Internet expert Esther Dyson.

“It violates our electronic space in a way that’s as uncomfortable as someone violating our physical space,” says Mitchell Kertzman, a partner at technology investment firm Hummer Winblad.

But I am not very upset. So much of privacy has to do with expectations. No one expects that their behavior in a shopping mall is private, so no one complains when it is not. Have you ever noticed that Europeans, who are so worried about privacy rights, also are such big fans of the public downtown shopping experience? But just imagine the privacy critique:

“You walk around, the whole world can watch you. They see what you look like, which stores you frequent, what credit cards you use, and what you buy. And if you wear light-colored pants, some people can even see your underwear line.”

For better or worse, we need to get over this idea of the Internet as a private or confidential sphere. Gmail, of which I am a big fan, is just the beginning. In the longer run (it’s already on the way) I expect competing communications spheres. An easy-to-use sphere, which is essentially open and fair game, and a private sphere, which is slightly harder to use and less universal but fully confidential. I’ll predict that most people prefer the open sphere, but of course time will tell. Not everyone will get what they want, but hey, Taco Bell won’t sell me a Chillito anymore either.

Addendum: Here is a related anti-privacy idea: “A pair of sunglasses that can detect when someone is making eye contact with the wearer has been developed by Canadian researchers. Besides being useful in singles bars, its inventors say the system could play a key role in video blogging, a hi-tech form of diary keeping.” So if you don’t want to be detected, don’t look.

Also, check out this post on “Brad and Dad.”

The consumer surplus from Google’s Gmail

Google will be offering its Gmail service for free, but right now supply is limited. Not surprisingly, a market in the accounts has arisen, check out this ebay listing. I have heard that some accounts have gone for as much as $150.

If any of you know of good estimates of the consumer surplus from Google (and related search engines) more generally, please let me know. Here are some interesting magnitudes, comparing Google’s possible market value to various countries.

Thanks to Nicholas Kreisle for the pointer.

Addendum: Here is some speculation on where Google is heading in the longer run.

What’s in a name?

Not much, if you are the small island of Tuvalu, population 11,000. The country planned to get rich by selling Internet domain addresses. It was thought that the “.tv” suffix would prove immensely appealing, most of all to entertainment companies:

Tuvalu had a 12-year contract to share revenue from .tv registrations to be marketed by a start-up company called DotTV, which was backed by $50 million from California high-tech incubator Idealab. Now you can buy one here.

Tuvalu expected a windfall. DotTV predicted every entertainment company would want a .tv address. At the time, its executives cited examples such as, and – the last for India’s Zee TV network.

This being the era when people talked of initial public stock offerings before a company’s bathroom needed its first replacement roll of toilet paper, DotTV anticipated a big IPO. The company even said it would create a .tv portal.

Of course, in 2000 the dot-com bubble blew apart, and the value of Web addresses dove like a pelican after a fish. No .tv boom ever happened. Today, is a dead end, is for sale, and bounces to, the Web site of Southeast Asian television entrepreneur Sheeraz Hasan.

Are you shocked to discover that the CIA thought the domain address sales would turn the island’s economy around?

And how do things look now?

1. Despite the “.tv” suffix, the island has no broadcast TV station.

2. The prime minister works in a two-bedroom house.

3. Subsistence fishing and farming are the major economic activities.

4. One thousand Tuvaluans are guest workers in the neighboring island of Nauru, which is going bankrupt.

5. The islands are fifteen feet above sea level and are expected to vanish under the sea in a few decades’ time. Tuvalu, however, will remain a sovereign nation under international law. It will retain its rights to all domain names.

By the way, here is the most popular “.tv” website currently in existence.

Will Google be overpriced?

Read Brad DeLong, who says yes. I agree, while admitting upfront I won’t have the guts to sell short. Here is an earlier MR post on why Google is so vulnerable in its key markets. Here is an earlier MR post on adverse selection and Google’s IPO.

Addendum: “Of the 10 IPOs with the biggest first-day pops since 1975, not one ever returned to the price it reached its first day, according to an analysis of data from Jay Ritter, professor of finance at the University of Florida.”

A picture is worth a thousand words, maybe sometimes

Ever try Internet dating? How do you know that picture is for real? Is her age shaded downwards? Or what if the guy is still married?

Here is one option:

Zeri now sifts through this city’s bustling singles scene with a local off-line dating service called CheckMates, which screens its members – some 90% of whom are refugees from the online world – using everything from Google searches to driver’s license verifications.

“My clients care about physical and financial safety, but more simply, they worry about people’s ability to misrepresent themselves online,” says CheckMates founder Carole Shattil, who for $1,500 and up will personally scour the city’s singles scene in search of a potential match.

“I meet every one of my clients,” who number around 1,100, she says. “Online services can’t do that.”

Or perhaps the photo poster can offer outside certification:

Hoping to ensure the quality angle are upstart businesses such as, an 8-month-old Los Angeles company that links daters with local professional photographers.

The resulting head shots, which cost $129 and aim to walk the tightrope between oddball self-portrait and soft-focus silliness, can be posted on any online dating site and are accompanied by a logo that notes the month and year the photo was shot. Gold certification (an additional $20) adds age, height and weight while platinum status ($50) includes a criminal record, marital status and bankruptcy filing review.

Of course some daters may prefer a criminal record in their significant other. And I enjoyed that last bit about the bankruptcy review. For another $100, perhaps they will report how many “naked puts” you have written.

How about this service?

Of growing concern are “organized efforts to bilk American men,” often in the form of foreign women who ask for plane fare to the USA and then vanish.

“We’re trying to clean up this industry,” says Herb Vest, founder of Dallas-based TrueBeginnings, a 6-month-old site that boasts a partnership with a criminal-record database firm called, which stockpiles 150 million records compiled from more than 110 state and county agencies.

“I don’t want to introduce someone to a felon,” Vest says.

Here is the full story. And yes, sometimes I title these posts “Markets in Everything.”

Hayek is blossoming in the blogosphere

Two new Hayekian blogs started this week. Taking Hayek Seriously is a group blog with an Austrian and free market orientation. Cafe Hayek is run by Russ Roberts (he guestblogged for us a few weeks ago) and Don Boudreaux. Don is my chair and boss at GMU. I am glad to see he has the blogging bug. I like their subtitle: “Where Orders Emerge”.

Here is a humorous site comparing the two Hayeks.

Daniel Drezner describes my weekend

Read his witty and salacious account of a conference on Steven Pinker, attended by some of the major bloggers, including Alex. What I found most interesting was the following. The fellow bloggers (who in general had not previously met) had more to say to each other, even when the topic was not blogging. If you read (and write) blogs, you probably have different ideas what the cutting edge questions are, compared to your blog-ignorant friends.

A note on the econoblog market

Tyler and Alex want to “dominate the market in econ blogs.”

When an industrial organization economist reads such a statement–O.K., maybe not all industrial organization economists, but at least this one–he asks: “How do you define the market?” I first thought, “Economists who blog regularly about a wide range of topics from an economic perspective.” On second thought, that definition has problems. (Market definitions usually do.) Should econoblogs be restricted to just “economists”? What’s a “blog,” anyway? How often is “regularly”? Should the definition include blogs that specialize in just one area of economics, such as taxes, international economics, neuroeconomics, oligopolies? What about some of the fine public policy blogs?

On third thought, since the antitrust authorities aren’t suing Alex and Tyler yet–but Institutional Economics cracks, “It is just as well Marginal Revolution are only intellectual entrepreneurs. Commercial entrepreneurs would be setting themselves up for anti-trust action were they to put in writing their intention to dominate a market”–there’s no need to overthink this. At least not unless readers express interest, and offer to help, and someone provides major, major financial support. I’ll just note 20 other blogs–one is actually a list of links to blog posts, a list that changes weekly– that I think would probably belong in the market and that I think are worth a look.

The first four are already listed in Tyler and Alex’s links and are probably the dominant oligopolists in the market. I especially recommend EconLog, by Arnold Kling. It is consistently interesting, thoughtful, and free of cant.

The Knowledge Problem
Dynamist Blog
Brad DeLong

Sixteen more:

A Random Walk
Asymmetrical Information
Atlantic Blog
Ben Muse
Carnival of the Capitalists
Cold Spring Shops
Deinonychus antirrhopus
Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey
Law and Economics Blog
The Angry Economist
The Idea Shop
The Proximal Tubule
The Sports Economist
Truck and Barter