Google’s Lunchtime Betting Game – New York Times


Interesting article in the NY Times today about a project at Google that measures the correlation between people’s prediction of future events and their proximity to other people.

The experiment invites employees to earn money by correctly predicting future events (like stock price, project completion dates, election results, etc.). The successful predictions earn “Goobles”:

“The lure, nominally, is accumulating those Goobles, which can be converted to modest prizes — $10,000 worth each quarter. As it happens, Google employees were also taking part in an experiment on how information courses its way through the company. A study of those markets — by two outside economists, Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania and Eric W. Zitzewitz of Dartmouth College, and a Google economic analyst, Bo Cowgill — used the betting patterns of employees and their demographic details to try to find common factors among people with similar opinions — is it type of job or level within the corporate structure, being friends or sitting close to one another?

According to the report, ‘Using Prediction Markets to Track Information Flows: Evidence From Google,’ which was presented Friday at the American Economic Association meeting in New Orleans, the strongest correlation in betting was found among people who sat very close to one another, trumping even friendship or other close social ties.

This is tangible evidence, the authors argue, that information is shared most easily and effectively among office neighbors, even at an Internet company where instant messaging and e-mail are generally preferred to face-to-face discussion.

It is an argument, the authors say, for giving greater importance to ‘microgeography,’ or how people interact in the workplace. The finding that information moved fastest among people who were the closest together is also an endorsement of the company’s ‘third rule for managing knowledge workers: Pack Them In,’ the authors say. “

My personal interest in this story is the way it may challenge a trend in the Episcopal Church to cut back funds for face-to-face meetings in favor of asking widely spread groups to communicate and work online rather than in person.

If the research is correct, this online collaboration is going to be less efficient than person-to-person conversation. I suppose the way to overcome this inefficiency is to allot more time to the task undertaken if it’s going to be done online.

What do y’all think?

Read the rest here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...