Qwerty vs. Dvorak smash-down

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Fun blog entry at freakonomics summarizing the querty/dvorak debate.  I love the way they summarize the different back-and-forth arguments.  Sadly, they don't leave us with a ground truth: what's better?!  

One thing not mentioned in this blog entry (though of course they well understand this point!) is that the economic argument for why querty won despite being inferior is not at all difficult: often the winning  standard is one with market momentum, not the best technology.  (e.g., beta vs. vhs).

Paul Graham and Economics

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Paul Graham is one of my favorite tech essayists.  His essays on startup companies, Lisp, and — especially — American high schools are smart, funny, and insightful.  On these topics, even when I think he's wrong, I learn something.

However, he also writes periodically about economics, about which he seems to know a lot less.  His most recent foray is an article on unions.  Boiled down, the argument is that unions were successful a few decades ago because the manufacturing industries they were organizing were growth industries, and because growth industries don't mind overpaying for stuff, since time to market is more important that expense.  I know enough to know I don't know the economics behind why unions are not doing well — but this hypothesis is both naive and lacks predictive power.  It attempts to explain why unions are not doing well by explaining why *manufacturing* unions are not doing well.  What about all the other types of unions that are not doing well?  Why aren't growth industries unionizing so the workers can get some of the wealth?  I don't know the answers … but at least I know I don't know :).  




Reddit’s Conscience

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An interesting article discusses the problem in the reddit community that the community has wide agreement on a variety of issues, and that therefore only articles with the "correct" viewpoint on those issues get many votes.  (Similar problems apply to the other social news sites like slashdot and digg.)

The off-the-cuff response from the recommender community might be "let's solve the problem by creating personalized reddit".  In this world, everyone would read the articles he or she was most interested in, creating many overlapping communities of interest. A concern with this approach is that social psychology suggests that by making it easy for people to only talk with others with whom they agree, we would be creating a world that would emphasize our differences, amplifying them over time, balkanizing the community of news readers.  For instance, all of the atheists would only read articles that support their views, and would become increasingly resistant to theist views — and eventually unable to even find common ground for discussion with theists.  

An alternative would be to find a way to create a community news reader that would simultaneously support personalization and encourage the sharing of opinions. What would such a news reader look like? How would it use recommenders in a novel way?