Searching for the Future

Think you’re pretty good at sussing out the future? Try matching wits with Yahoo Research’s fantasy prediction game that lets you bet for—or against—emerging technologies and trends.

The Tech Buzz Game is an intriguing offering that lets you and others predict the technologies people will be searching the web for in the future. How? By buying or selling fantasy “stocks” that reflect a mix of companies, products and technologies in innovative areas.

The game is a collaboration between Yahoo Research and tech publisher O’Reilly. The markets and stocks reflect O’Reilly’s picks of “important, emerging, intriguing and disruptive forces in the technology world.”

It’s free to play the game. When you register you’re given $10,000 fantasy dollars to play with. You can then decide which markets you want to “invest” in.

Each market focuses on a specific area of technology, such as operating systems, wireless internet and so on. Many of the markets focus on web-based technologies: Ad services, desktop search, virtual earth, social bookmarks and others.

Within each of these markets are “stocks” that represent companies working on particular products or services within the market.

The game is fun if you’re interested in the whole idea of buying and selling based on your own bets on future trends. But what makes it even more interesting is that each stock has a “buzz score” that represents its percent of search buzz compared to other stocks in the same market.

What’s search buzz? Essentially, a number of words or phrases associated with a particular stock. Buzz words are chosen by starting with an initial seed set of related search phrases. This initial set is expanded by using Yahoo Search Web Services to discover related searches.

You can see the buzz words for a stock by clicking the “view buzz words” link on the stock’s information page. Another bonus on this page: Headlines from Yahoo news related to each stock.

At certain intervals, all shares in all stocks cash out according to buzz scores. This means that prices in the game are grounded in something real: frequency of search on Yahoo. Ultimately, this means you’re not only making bets based on your own knowledge and insight, but you’re also trying to predict search trends.

Apart from being an amusing and interesting pastime for participants, the project has some other, more serious goals. From the Tech Buzz Game’s frequently asked questions page, these goals include:

  • To see if search buzz (including spikes and trends) can indeed be predicted by the collective wisdom of crowds in a market
  • To provide an index of “what’s next” for technology enthusiasts
  • To separate the wheat from the chaff among the various technologies that O’Reilly is constantly watching and tracking; to measure which forces in the technology industry are truly disruptive and which are mere flashes in the pan
  • To discover how Yahoo Research’s dynamic pari-mutuel market mechanism behaves in the “wild”
  • To investigate opportunities around predicting trends in search engine behavior, and how they relate to events in the real world

Even if you don’t play the game, checking in to see which markets and stocks are “moving” from time-to-time can offer valuable insights if you spend any time at all following trends and technologies.

How do you play?

Say you want to invest in the maps and directions market. The four “stocks” in that market represent Mapquest, Google Maps, MSN Maps and Yahoo Maps. Currently, Mapquest is the most expensive stock and Yahoo Maps is the least expensive.

To buy one of the stocks, simply select it and indicate the dollar amount you want to invest. The system calculates the number of shares you’re eligible to buy. There is no transaction fee for buying stocks. There is a one penny per share transaction fee for selling stocks.

You’re also not allowed to sell stocks short, so the only significant way to make money is to buy “undervalued” stocks and sell them once they’ve appreciated.

There are other nuances to the game that I won’t bother to elaborate here. If you’re interested in learning more details about how the pari-mutuel market mechanism establishes prices for the stocks, see this Yahoo Research publication.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Shrugging off Google’s miss
Business 2.0 Feb 1 2006 4:25PM GMT
What did Google know?
Reuters Asia Feb 1 2006 4:23PM GMT
Google Growth to Come From Traditional Media
Internet News Feb 1 2006 4:18PM GMT
Survey: Advertisers Say Search Ads On Google Better Than Yahoo, MSN
Media Post Feb 1 2006 4:10PM GMT
Google’s Rumored ‘Big Daddy’ Overhaul Makes Waves
eWeek Feb 1 2006 3:57PM GMT
New Search Box Part of IE 7 Browser Preview
Red Herring Feb 1 2006 3:53PM GMT
Gale Publishing Offers Online Resources for Black History Month Feb 1 2006 3:47PM GMT
Phone start-up takes on Google
Australian IT Feb 1 2006 3:46PM GMT
SearchTHIS: Google in China
iMedia Connection Feb 1 2006 3:39PM GMT
Online Exclusive: Is Your Search Ready for the Bowl? Feb 1 2006 3:38PM GMT
Ethical debate swirls around Google’s attempts to expand business in China
San Francisco Chronicle Feb 1 2006 3:27PM GMT
Search Engines Excel At Turning Shoppers Into Buyers
Information Week Feb 1 2006 3:17PM GMT
Google News Netherlands, Belgium, and More
Google Blogoscoped Feb 1 2006 7:39AM GMT
Consistency in Linking Can Go Far
Search Engine Round Table Feb 1 2006 7:34AM GMT
Why Advertising Agencies Hate Search Marketing
Search Engine Guide Feb 1 2006 7:32AM GMT

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