Idealog: Internet Panel + Media Monitoring

4 Jan

Media scholars have for long complained about the lack of good measures of media use. Survey self-reports have been shown to be notoriously unreliable, especially for news, where there is significant over-reporting, and without good measures, research lags. The same is true for most research in marketing.

Until recently, the state of the art aggregate media use measures were Nielsen ratings, which put a `meter’ in a few households, or asked people to keep a diary of what they saw. In short, the aggregate measures were pretty bad as well. Digital media, which allows for effortless tracking, and the rise of Internet polling however for the first time provides an opportunity to create `panels’ of respondents for whom we have near perfect measures of media use. The proposal is quite simple: create a hybrid of Nielsen on steroids and YouGov/Polimetrix or Knowledge Network kind of recruiting of individuals.

Logistics: Give people free cable and Internet (~ 80/month) in return for 2 hours of their time per month and monitoring of media consumption. Pay people who already have cable (~100/month) for installing a device and software. Recording channel information is enough for TV, but Internet equivalent of channel – main Domain – clearly isn’t as people can self-select within websites. So we only need to monitor channel for TV but more for Internet.

While number of devices on which people browse Internet, and watch TV has multiplied, there generally remains only one `pipe’ per house. We can install a monitoring device at the central hub for cable, and automatically install software for anyone who connects to the Internet router, or do passive monitoring on the router. Monitoring can also be done through applications on mobile devices.

Monetizability: Consumer companies (say Kellog’s, Ford), Communication researchers, Political hacks (e.g. how many watched campaign ads) will all pay for it. The crucial innovation (modest) is addition of the possibility to survey people on a broad range of topics, in addition to getting great media use measures.

Addressing Privacy concerns:

  1. Limit recording information to certain channels/websites – ones which on which customers advertize etc. This changing list say can be made subject to approval by the individual.
  2. Provide for a web-interface where people can look/suppress the data before it is sent out. Of course reconfirm that all data is anonymous to deter such censoring.

Ensuring privacy may lead to some data censoring and we can try to prorate the data we get it a couple of ways –

  • Survey people on media use
  • Use Television Rating Points (TRP) by sociodemographics to weight data.

Proposal for a small NGO: Fomenting Cross-Class Interaction

14 Jan

Preamble and Introduction

Words like bubble are often used to describe the shielded seclusion in which students live their lives on the Stanford campus. And the words seem appropriate. After all, Stanford has three quarters of a mile long boundary that separates it from civilization, and even that ends in the latte swilling yuppy favored downtown lined with preppy shops that further abuts multimillion dollar homes. For reaching the vast seething humanity, one has to go further – to the nether regions of Palo Alto and cross into East Palo Alto – a task so mythically treacherous that no one will volunteer, except of course to buy the chic necessities from IKEA.

But even in the famously elitist bubble, there are poor and opportunities to interact with different socio-economic strata – the employees. Stanford spends about $3.2 billion to educate its roughly 15,000 students. The figure amounts to roughly $213,000 per person. About half of this money is spent on salary and benefits of the numerous employees who work for this university. The employees range from $15/hr bus drivers or $10 hr/cafeteria workers with no benefits to administrators who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Either way you look at it, we have a substantial breadth of employees with whom students can interact and form partnerships to help some, and learn from others.

The shrinking conversational space

Most transactions involving cross-class interaction are economic interactions – when you buy something, or involving paid service – gardening, or somebody delivering a Pizza. Most of these interactions have been commercialized and bureaucratized – with greeting protocols and thank you protocols – leaving little space for real human to human interaction, exchange of stories etc. In places like India, middle class still knows about the lives of their maids, the neighborhood grocer, etc. and in knowing about their lives they form genuine bonds of empathy that help them look at policy imperatives, and their own lives much differently. I would argue, more trenchantly, that it is in fact through knowing lives of people in other classes that one can build genuine empathy (as opposed to an identity contingent one which wrist band wearing concert attending bobos – in David Brooke’s term – feel towards people in Darfur.) The damning fact of modern life is that even empathy has been implicated in superficial identity issues, and hence people’s empathy lies within the contingencies imposed upon the selling and buying, largely absent of information or care.


So my proposal is to create a program on campus that heightens awareness of people towards people from other classes around them with whom they (don’t) interact every day. The idea is to connect students, faculty and professional staff with workers from lower economic strata, for example, cashiers, janitors, construction workers, or drivers, on whose services they rely upon every day. Another related idea would be to create an umbrella program that gives guidance to people toward helping them form hyper-local chapters (that extend to say one building) where they form programs to interact with people or help them in some way. For example computer science students may formulate a program to help teach computers to janitors while social scientist may work with them to improve their literacy skills. Obvious returns to them would include a better understanding of the world, a chance to practice or even learn a foreign language (in places where janitors are fluent in say Spanish or some other language) and myriad of other benefits that accrue from learning about the complexities of living as economic underclass.

Detailed Proposal:

There are three parts to the proposed program –

  • Create a website that has the following capabilities –
    1. Matching students with Employees – The website will allow for students and employees to fill in detailed profiles and will allow them to search for possible “matches” based on their skill set, issues they want to work on, and availability (time).
    2. The website will allow for two kinds of matching – project by project matching – which will allow for students to sign for say helping an employee with his resume’ or a government form, longer term mentoring or symbiotic matching which will assign a student to an employee for a duration of an academic year.
    3. The website would feature a blog and wiki to advertise successful ventures and collaborative opportunities.
  • Since creating excitement around the program is essential, the program launch will be followed by an advertisement blitz including posters, presentations, and get-to-know sessions.
  • The other crucial part of this venture is ‘hardware’ – be it computers/supplies or other things that are needed to make some of this possible. So there would be two parts to the same – one would be a craigslist kind of central clearing house list that will post want and available ads, and the other would be a central fund which students or employees can draw on to make of this happen.

From satellites to streets

11 Jul

There has been a tremendous growth in Satellite guided navigation systems and secondary applications relying on these “GIS” systems like finding shops near the place you are etc. However, it remains opaque to me as to why we are using satellites to beam in this information when we can easily embed RFID/or similar chips on road signs for pennies. The road signage needs to move from the ‘dumb’ painted visual boards era to electronic tag era, where signs beam out information on a set frequency to which a variety of devices may be tuned in.

Indeed it would be wonderful to have “rich” devices, connected to the Internet, where we can leave our comments, just like messageboards, or blogs. This will remove the need for expensive satellite signal reception boxes or the cost of maintaining satellites. The concept is of course not limited to road signage and can include any and everything from shops to homes to chips informing the car where the curbs are so that it stays within lane.

Possibilities are endless and we must start now.