Friday, November 28, 2008

Local Search: Every Brick is a Survey

One of my investors, David Carlick, is a pioneering thinker in online advertising. David was a founder of DoubleClick, and has been a leading proponent of behavioral advertising. He is fond of saying that "every click is a survey," and that pithy phrase captures a lot about how the aggregate of human behavior can be turned into knowledge.

I've been thinking about local for a few years now, and I'm increasingly obsessed with the kind of ranking intelligence that can be derived from the physical map of cities. Most of the features of cities - streets, buildings, transit systems - are not there by accident. Rather, they are the accrued choices of generations of human beings, a physical record of millions of discrete building and buying and selling decisions, made over decades or centuries.

In truth, every brick is a survey.

Here's a very simple example: What's the most expensive and valuable part of Vancouver? How about the part with the tallest buildings?


If you were told to a) choose a hotel for an urban weekend, cost no object; or b) choose a prestigious location for your multinational headquarters, you could do far worse than to point to the high point on the implicit value graph of the skyline and say, "here."

There are hundreds of other examples too lengthy to record at 6am UK time, which is when this urge to blog has struck me. Unpacking this latent ranking intelligence in physical reality is a very interesting and potentially lucrative search problem, one that I'm looking forward to working on for years to come.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Inflation and Deflation are the Same Thing

What?! you say. Ethan has a screw loose. Inflation and deflation are opposites!
Au contraire, mon frere.

In practice, inflation and deflation are effectively the same thing. Inflation is "you have lots of money but it isn't worth anything" and deflation is "money is worth a lot but you don't have any."

In either case, massive social and economic dislocation occurs. And the same crisis can simultaneously cause both outcomes - witness during the Great Depression, which created deflation in the United States and hyperinflation in Weimar Germany, both with the same root cause: the collapse of the British Imperial trading order and the decline of the pound sterling as the global reserve currency.

For an orderly and functioning society, the intersection of people having money and that money being worth something is required. I don't think we're heading there, and whether we drive off the right side of the road or the left side, this is going to be ugly.