We locally had an annoying pollution experience yesterday. Our research group at UM runs an ICD wiki for sharing our research, announcements, &c. Access is pretty open, and sure enough, after about a year in operation, a splogger found us. He or she created an account and added spam links to about 40 pages in the wiki (invisible to us but visible to search engines, to increase the link rankings for the underlying spam sites). One of our grad students, Rick Wash, spent hours cleaning things up for us. What’s the solution?…
In a comment on Felten’s blog article about false congestion as an incentive to send less traffic, Jim Horning reminded me of a classic article by Coffman and Kleinrock about incentives in scheduling computer resources:
E.G. Coffman and L. Kleinrock. â€śComputer scheduling methods and their countermeasures.â€? In AFIPS conference proceedings, volume 32, pages 11â€“21, 1968.
Coffman and Kleinrock argue that users will adapt to any scheduling rule implemented. Therefore, they argue, an incentive-compatible designer would decide which new behavior she wants users to adopt, and then implement a scheduling rule that to which that behavior is the best countermeasure. That’s a very apt and clever way to express the principle of incentive-centered design!
My first significant foray into research on incentive-centered design was my work with Hal Varian, Liam Murphy and others in the early-mid 1990s on incentives for congestion control in the Internet. Ed Felten in his popular “Freedom to Tinker” blog has brought up one of the key issues we in the networking community debated back then — but the issue is still valid today!http://battellemedia.com/archives/002391.php
Esther Dyson has a column in today’s New York Times (registration required) (You’ve Got Goodmail summarizing fairly well the economic incentives arguments for supporting experimentation with systems that charge for sending “priority” email, and also the market competition argument for why this will ultimately benefit users, not create monopoly profits. She also discusses a variant which is, essentially, the same as the “Attention Bond Mechanism” proposed by our own Loder, van Alstyne and Wash.
A couple of days after Rich Wiggins posted his blog story about the ability to place false news stories in Google News, CNN has picked up the story, and Google has now dropped i-Newswire as a source for Google News.
i-Newswire was a user-contributed content (UCC) service, and thus subject to the pollution problem I’ve been discussing (link and link). More precisely, i-Newswire is an un-moderated or un-edited UCC service (all press release newswires rely on user-contributed content, but most employ editors to decide whether press released are legitimate).
Google News, on the other hand, is not a UCC, and is edited: there is central control over which content feeds are included. So, in a crude way, Google can handle the pollution problem: if pollution is coming in through channel A, turn channel A off. Google News may be a case where a technological pollution prevention approach will work pretty well, obviating the need for an incentive system.
Daren Briscoe reported in Newsweek that gangs are using the web to recruit members and communicate. But gosh, they have to deal with spam too:
But the Web has also given rival gangs a new, less violent way to settle scoresâ€”flooding each other’s sites with junk e-mail. Stalker says he spends hours every week deleting threatening or insulting messages from other gangs from his Web site. Not even a gangster is safe from spam.
I wonder: if you’re a gangster, maybe you have a somewhat wider range of incentives you can use to discourage spammers?
I’m developing an interest in the phenomenon of user-contributed content, and the two fundmental incentives problems that it faces: pollution (keeping the bad stuff out) and the private provision of public goods (inducing contributions of the good stuff). User-contributed “news” is one example to explore.