Yahoo Project Builds Market Around Search Popularity

Yahoo and O'Reilly Media unveil an online simulation for predicting the emerging technology categories that will get the most search-engine buzz during a peek into major research labs at the Emerging Tech conference.

SAN DIEGO—Technology soothsayers can put their predictions to the test as part of a research project merging search-query data with a virtual, online marketplace.

Yahoo Inc. unveiled a project called the Tech Buzz Game during a research labs presentation Tuesday at the OReilly Emerging Technology Conference here.

Players who sign up can buy and sell virtual shares in emerging technologies. The game pits competing products, companies and technologies against each other in a series of preset categories.

OReilly Media Inc., a partner in the project, created such technology categories as digital media players, programming languages, operating systems and wikis. Yahoo also partnered with NewsFutures for the prediction-markets software.

"What led us to this game was the recognition that as the Internet matures it more closely approximates what happens in the physical world," said Gary Flake, principal scientist at Yahoo, during an interview with

"We want to know, Can a bunch of alpha geeks collectively predict the future trends in search?"

For example, participants who are avid Web browser watchers could buy shares in Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and other browsers, in essence making a virtual bet into which browsers will gain the most buzz in search queries.

/zimages/2/28571.gifDetails of Microsofts Internet Explorer 7.0 are leaking out. Click here to read more.

For the game, Yahoo is linking into its search-query volume data, which already powers the Yahoo Buzz Index of popular searches. It also was built using Yahoos search APIs (application programming interfaces).

Yahoos demonstration of the online game came during a series of presentations from the research leaders at Yahoo, Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc.

Richard Rashid, senior vice president at Microsoft Research, discussed an effort to record someones life in a project called SenseCam. It combines a camera, equipped with an ultrawide angle lens, with sensors monitoring light and audio. The camera takes snapshots at key points during daily activity and can shoot as many as 2,000 images every 12 hours, Rashid said.

"The notion behind this is really to capture what happens to a person as much as you possibly can," Rashid said.

Microsoft Research is preparing to expand the project with a smaller version of the SenseCam and working with universities, Rashid said. Potential uses for the project include helping the memory impaired, studying peoples privacy concerns and using it in the travel industry.

/zimages/2/28571.gifLast year, Microsoft Research showed its Project Aura, which lets mobile devices interact with physical objects and retrieve information about them automatically from the Internet. Read more here about the project.

Meanwhile, Peter Norvig, Googles director of search quality, demonstrated some of the projects available through the Google Labs Web site. They included newer projects like the recently launched Google Maps service as well as Googles first public labs project called Google Sets, which lets users find related search groupings.

With the Tech Buzz Game, Yahoo is demonstrating auction mechanisms invented in its labs by Flake and senior research scientist David Pennock.

While the games focus on buying and selling shares in tech topics appears similar to the way the stock market works, Yahoo actually is using a patent-pending mechanism it calls a dynamic pari-mutuel market (DPM).

Flake described DPM as merging of the best from a horse-race wagering type of market and the stock market, providing a high level of liquidity and rapid propagation of information without requiring a middleman.

The game also simulates voting, treating the virtual dollars as votes on which search terms are likely to gain momentum. As participants perform well, their votes are given more weight in the system, Flake said.

"Its a voting mechanism where people who perform well historically are getting more votes than people who dont perform well," Flake said.

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