Archive for January, 2011

Prospective College Students Ask Google For Answers

Early last December I published a collection of rather difficult questions asked by certain college supplements. To my surprise, I saw an unusual increase in organic traffic referred to my post regarding these obscure questions.

A few observations I’m taking away from this unexpected traffic:

  • The two spikes in traffic occurred just before the application deadlines on January 1st and January 15th. I think its logical to associate these procrastinators as people who would be more likely to search the question on Google.
  • Of the 12 questions posted, the most popular incoming search was “The Admission Committee members would laugh if they knew I…”, which was asked on the supplement for Pepperdine.
  • In a close 2nd place was the question proposed by Wake Forest: “What final Jeopardy category would ensure your victory?”
  • By combining the stats from the second Wake Forest question I posted, the Wake Forest supplement referred more traffic than any of the other college supplements. (About 3-4% of the total applicant pool at Wake Forest this year has visited my blog in the last two months.)

Organic search traffic for college supplement questions.

My blog is just one of 10 different websites on the first page of Google that is receiving traffic for these college application questions. The trend is much more widespread than the visitors to my blog. Beyond what the statistical vicissitudes indicate, I think this growing trend is revealing a shift in how students react to critical analysis.

For this small sampling of just over 1,000 applicants visiting my blog, there is a present shift of mindset from relying on personal thoughts to relying on the power of Google. All too often over the course of my high school career I’ve listened to my peers cite their research by listing “Google” or “Wikipedia” as their primary source. Many kids growing up in the internet age are now first turning to Google when they are prompted to find an answer that they should be creating themselves. Instead of students taking information based on legitimate credibility, students perceive that Google has already done this work for them by ranking website sources according to its relevance.

What I’m trying to emphasize is the increasing lack of critical thinking instigated by easy access to information that can be readily searched for on the internet. The expectation that a Google search will be able to accurately predict your opinion on topics such as personal strengths or world issues is outrageous. Fortunately the questions asked by college supplements encourage a self reflection, often forcing applicants to express their true thoughts and character. Perhaps these sometimes part philosophical and part personal questions should be asked more often in the classroom.


01 2011

Airbnb Is Soaring Into 2011

I hardly ever give full write-ups on specific companies, but Airbnb is an exception because of their sustained growth and disruptive offerings. Take a look:

In the past year the market for short-term property rentals listed on Airbnb has grown exponentially. On any given night throughout the year, there are over 2,000 reservations booked each night in property locations around the world. One of Airbnb’s leading advantages is the company’s reach in more than 8,000 cities and over 160 countries. As existing customers continue to boast the renters ability to extract “more value for less price”, it’s certain that the company will reach its target of 1,000,000 reservations in 2011.

Founder & CEO Brian Chesky makes it clear in the recent TV interview that the company is positioning itself for long-term growth in the market for short-term rentals. Chesky compares Airbnb to eBay: He notes that eBay made a billion dollar industry from selling things in your house; he wants to create a billion dollar industry by selling the house. Airbnb takes their 6-12% cut in a pricing style similar to eBay’s transaction success fee.

There is certain indication that Airbnb has the leverage in existing markets to soon become a major competitor offering a hybrid product in-between hotels and vacation rentals. Easy to use functionality and a trusted review system are at the core of Airbnb’s continued success. This is confirmed by the standard protocol of Airbnb’s search system which lists the most recommended listings first. The process of listing your rental is as simple as creating an account and adding a description to your listing. Additional tools such as a built in Craigslist posting tool help drive additional traffic to the listings. In fact, the excellent UI is even a nomination for “Best Design” by The Crunchies.

I believe that Airbnb is really just at the tip of the ice-berg right now. Their enormous value proposition offered to every property owner with unused space around the world is just beginning to gain traction in many international destinations (“Airbnb London” and “Airbnb Paris” are breakout searches on Google). Many travelers see the benefit of becoming immersed in the destination itself with local people as something that does not compare to the homogeneous quality of a hotel room. Several substitutes have risen in the wake of Airbnb’s success, but my guess is that hardly any of them can compete with growth similar to Airbnb.

Here’s to the year of the air bed!


01 2011

Opportunity in an Artificial Age

Happy new year! Welcome to 2011, this year the tools and services we use on the internet will enrich our lives in ways we didn’t know were possible only a few short years ago. The strength and power of computers has grown significantly over the past decade. The internet has grown to dominate the personal and professional lives of those who use it regularly. Growing in parallel with this technological revolution is the perception that human intelligence is less robust than artificial intelligence. I strongly believe that opportunities for innovation on the internet lie in the human sphere.

The notion of artificial intelligence is hardly new but it has also rarely been implemented successfully online. The primary manifestation of the failure of artificial intelligence on the internet has been its lack of widespread adoption. A few companies, notably Pandora and Netflix, have struggled to produce an accurate and profitable customer recommendation system through the use of artificial intelligence. Just think how many times ‘Sex and the City 4’ has appeared in your Netflix recommended box. The old proverb, “Man must be smarter than the tools he operates” stands true. Merely gathering more data has failed to make computers more compatible with our emotionally-driven lives.

Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the Y-Combinator Startup School 2010 about our limited knowledge of the human brain. As he explained, medical research has yet to uncover the many mysteries of human thought processes. For example, doctors have only speculated on the origins of our dreams and their possible influences on our thoughts. If we humans are not truly aware of what causes the thoughts in our head and the decisions we make, how can we expect a computer to predict the outcomes of equivalent thoughts and reactions? Consider a dating site; how can computers match us with an ideal spouse when we do not truly know how or what we find attractive? We do not yet have the answer to that question. Instead, I feel that we should ask how the internet can meet, not simply interpret, the needs of an interconnected global population. One area in particular that has yet to be exploited is education. In the age of widespread communication through internet connections, video technology can be leveraged to teach knowledge-based courses online and empower internet users in the earliest stages of their academic careers. By taking an alternative approach to the implementation of technology, modern educators can use the internet to improve the quality and distribution of education.

Now you may ask: Where could I possibly be going with all of this, especially if your aim is to create disruptive technology? Essentially, I feel that there is an abundance of opportunity to meet the needs of an interconnected population. Even among the established industries, there are opportunities for disruption that even the smartest computers could not identify. The next generation of the web will require future-focused disruptors with an entrepreneurial drive to build relevant and useful technology. By encouraging entrepreneurship through the sciences in high school and college, students will be more adept to take on the challenge of advancing the capabilities of technology.

Also published on HunSchool.TV. Edited by David Merfield.


01 2011