Precommitment and Egonomics

The concept “egonomics” was introduced by Schelling in 1978, in his address to the American Economic Association. He was musing, in particular, on the ways in which people manage themselves either to do, or to avoid doing, particular activities or behaviors – the “tricks” they play on themselves in order to make unpleasant or difficult decisions unnecessary. Some of the examples he gave were to place the alarm clock at the other side of the room so it cannot be turned off without getting out of bed; to deliberately set watches a few minutes ahead of time to avoid being constantly late; to be committed to weekly payments into a Christmas Club to make saving easier and savings less readily accessible during the rest of the year and, at the extreme, to dieters having their jaws wired up in order to avoid the temptation of food. Putting things out of reach, or the self-promise of a small reward, or surrendering authority to a trustworthy friend, were all, Schelling suggested, means of policing or managing the self. Using cigarette smoking as an example, he went on to posit that addictive behaviors demonstrated an anomaly in consumer theory in that “consumers are getting negative satisfaction out of something they spend a lot of money to consume”. In other words, despite the known detrimental social, health and financial consequences, people continue to be hooked into the behavior. The way some of them can reverse the addiction is through, amongst other tactics, paying for support of professionals, drugs or behavior-aversive aids. The suggestion is that with both “positive” behaviors (regular saving, exercising, meeting deadlines) and “negative” behaviors such as cigarette smoking, the consumer will find ways of managing the self, whether through self-reward or self-intimidation.
At the core of Egonomics is the idea that within each person exists two selves: the future self and the present (or past) self, constantly at odds, leading to a sort of cognitive dissonance between the two. Both selves exist within us and are equally valid, but aren’t always active at the same time. It’s a natural and ongoing conflict between immediate desire and long-term goals.
“Many of us have little tricks we play on ourselves to make us do the things we ought to do or to keep us from the things we out to foreswear. Sometimes we put things out of reach for the moment of temptation, sometimes we promise ourselves small rewards, and sometimes we surrender authority to a trustworthy friend who will police our calories or our cigarettes. We place the alarm clock across the room so we cannot turn it off without getting out of bed. People who are chronically late set their watches a few minutes ahead to deceive themselves.” – Thomas Schelling, “Egonomics, or the Art of Self-Management”
Precommitment is one way to address this tension. The basic idea is to increase your chances for success by doing things in advance to make it harder, if not impossible, for your future self to find a way to “back out”. It’s similar to an idea discussed in the context of the Getting Things Done system: Always assume your future self is lazy. But with precommitment, you’re perhaps taking it even further in that you’re not just presupposing laziness, you’re practically dragging your future self kicking and screaming toward the “right thing” by taking away his or her alternative options.
Precommitment is one of the many tools in our imaginary toolboxes as we work towards a balanced perspective of short-term pleasure vs. long-term advances. It’s a great “life hack”; one that you’ll find in almost every realm of personal development ranging from managing finances to improving your marriage to getting in shape. Now that you can identify it, you can start to be aware when you come across it – and you can explore ways to introduce precommitment into your own everyday life.
Here are some examples of precommitment:

  1. Don’t buy food at the grocery store you don’t want yourself eating at a later date.
  2. Don’t carry cigarettes around with you, put the burden on your future self to bum one from someone.
  3. Sign-up and pay in advance for a seminar, class, or a personal trainer.
  4. Arrange in advance to meet someone at the gym or the outdoor track (accountability!)
  5. Make your next dentist/doctor/hair appointment on your way out of one, noting the penalty you’ll pay for skipping.
  6. Setup an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck into an investment account every month, or add future expenses to your register before you have the funds to pay them.
  7. Book and pay for time away from work or home in advance.
  8. Leave your laptop at work so you aren’t tempted to use it.
  9. Give friends and family a date they should expect something from you.

There are many more examples out there of how precommitment can help keep you moving forward.

Splitting the bill using game theory

“We’re going to split the bill,” said the organizer at my friend’s birthday party. I didn’t think much of it until I ended up paying $40 for a $10 entrée. It’s hard to change how people respond to incentives. But the group dining situation is screaming for better outcomes. If you don’t like the outcomes, change the game. And the best tool is the aptly named field of mechanism design. I’ll frame the dining problem by reviewing the three common payment systems: splitting evenly, pay for what you ordered, and separate checks. I’ll then suggest a solution for those seemingly intractable birthday parties.

Splitting Evenly

This is probably the most common solution. But three economics professors have shown that it’s a very inefficient system.

The system is problematic because it distorts the incentives of diners. At a table of 6, each item you order contributes 1/6 to your cost and 5/6 to everyone else. You have reason to order more, and so does everyone else. The outcome is that everyone wastefully orders and everyone ends up paying too much. It’s a version of the tragedy of the commons. Restaurants are well aware that diners rack up more expenses, so that’s one reason they favor keeping a common tab.

Furthermore, splitting the bill is unfair to people who prefer less expensive items. If you’re a non-drinker, or if you’re a vegetarian, you’re probably going to end up subsidizing the meals of the meat-eating alcoholics. Or, if you are a saver, you’ll end up subsidizing the people who splurge on ridiculous items.

It’s considered impolite to point out large price differences. It makes gluttons feel guilty and ruins the mood. Besides, is there a better solution?

Yes, you might say. Just pay for what you ordered.

Pay for What You Ordered

I always say, when you collect more money than is needed, it’s a sign that you’re in good company.

Hence, pay for what you ordered is the method I use with close friends. We all trust each other to calculate tax and tip, and not screw each other over. Actually, it’s not so much that we trust each other as friends, but that we are made to trust each other in a game theory sense because we can punish cheapskates the next time we go out.

Unfortunately, this system has its flaws too. How do you split a bottle of wine? Do you go as far as calculating the cost of each glass? What about when you share food, or finish off someone’s meal because they are too full? The problem is there’s a small difference between what you order and what you eat. The system favors people who order cheaper items but then try to sample as much as possible of other people’s food.

There’s one more issue. It’s often not possible to say who put in what. There’s an incentive to pay just a little bit less hoping someone else will be generous and cover. If the pot is short, often everyone is asked to put in an extra dollar or two. So the system still favors the cheapskates—especially the people who pay less and then sneak away to the bathroom when everyone is asked to pitch in more.

If you don’t trust your company, why not just separate checks?

Separate Checks

This is the most efficient system, in terms of incentives. People will only order what they really want because they ultimately have to pay for it. Perhaps this is why researchers found that 80% of subjects favored separate checks.

So the economics are pretty favorable, but there are a few practical problems.

First, it takes longer to pay as your party size gets bigger. As a matter of practice, waiters don’t enjoy this.

Second, separate checks are impractical when you’re sharing appetizers or bottles of wine. What if you share an appetizer with one friend but then take a glass of wine that was split with four other people? It’s a hassle to sort it all out.

Third, in parties, people usually treat the guest of honor. Would a restaurant actually split one item across everyone else’s bill? I am not sure, as I’ve ever seen this.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that separate checks are not even allowed at some restaurants—particularly nicer ones. It’s probably because they know people order more on a common bill, and it’s somehow seen as less “classy” to offer separate checks. I don’t totally understand it, but I have been rejected by at least one snobby waiter (Oh, no, no, monsieur, we don’t do that).

Thinking about an ideal outcome

What’s an ideal outcome? I think it would have three elements: that each person orders properly, each person pays what is owed, and the money is collected quickly.

How do the three methods compare on these criteria?

Splitting the bill –>Over order, over pay, quick collection
Pay what you ordered–>Order correctly, a few overpay, moderately fast collection
Separate checks–>Inconvenient for sharing, pay correctly, slow collection

So each method is the best at exactly one trait. Perhaps that’s why there’s such disagreement over what to do—each method has its unique merit.

Let’s abstract the problem a little more to consider why the dining problem is so complicated. I see six main characteristics that cause trouble:

1. Hidden preferences on food
2. Hidden willingness to pay
3. Selfish desire to pay less
4. Desire to look fair
5. Desire to maintain party atmosphere
6. Hidden payments on a common bill

I’ve mulled over several solutions, and I think I’ve come up with a good start.

I’ll deal with the situation of a birthday party with a large number of people. Other situations can be handled similarly—they might even be easier because you don’t have to cover the guest of honor’s meal.

The Suggested Answer

Such a simple situation demands an answer! But how might we proceed? There are two big steps that can make a drastic difference.

The first step has to do with the problem of disparity. Often, people end up ordering items that cost vastly different amounts. While it’s nice to have choice, it’s worse that everyone ends up with a wildly different amount that’s owed. This confusion is what allows cheaters to conceal their motives and pay less.

Thus, the first step is to make everyone happier by offering a reasonable menu. The most practical way is to call the restaurant and see if you can make a special fixed menu. Some restaurants will print you small menu cards to make the occasion special. But don’t worry if they don’t–just make your own menu. Select a few reasonably priced items and design your own menu to hand out to guests.

The second step is to assign one person as the money collector. Preferably this takes place before any one eats food. This guarantees guests have money, and creates an incentive for someone to collect fairly. In large parties, you could even offer to compensate this person a few bucks from the group. I am sure everyone would be willing to willing to spend an extra dollar to ensure the party atmosphere is good. If your party does not have an organizer, volunteer! People will be happy.

Here’s how the solution might work in practice.

An example calculation

Let’s say you have 10 guests, plus one birthday boy. You want to go to Gordon Biersch, a brewery restaurant.

They have lots of food on the menu. I count 13 starters, 12 salads, 10+ pizzas, 5 steaks, 6 seafood dishes, 5 specialties, 9 pastas, 14 sandwiches, and 5 desserts.

There is a large difference between a $10 burger and a $27 steak, so you can already see that a free-for-all “split-the-meal” is going to be a disaster. And I didn’t even mention the drink menu.

Here’s one way to proceed.

Step One: Create a reasonable fixed menu

Choose 3 garlic fries starters for everyone to share.
For drinks, allow people to order a soda or beer. Avoid complications like sharing wine.
Limit the menu to pizzas (except do it yourself) and sandwiches. The price range is $9-$12.25.
Choose 5 desserts for the table to share.

Step Two: Estimate costs and collect the money in advance

I will round some costs up to be safe.

3 garlic fries 3 x $6 = $18.00
11 entrees 11 x $12.50 = $137.50
5 desserts 5 x $6.25 = $31.25
2 beers for birthday boy 2 x $5 = $10.00
Total common = $196.75
Tax + Tip (8% +18%) = $247.91

Per 10 people (treat the birthday boy) = $24.79–>round to $25

The only difference in what people pay is the choice of drinks. I think sodas cost $2 and beers $5. I’ll add tax and tip and do some rounding.

Soda: Contribute $28
1 beer: Contribute $31.50
2 beers: Contribute $38
n beers: Contribute $25 + $6.50 n

That’s it! Collect money in advance, and you’ll have every thing covered.

Step Three: Send everyone an email

The dining problem is about expectations and information. Get every one on the same page before the party starts. Here’s an email you could send to all your attendees:

Hi everybody,

We’re going to be celebrating Dan’s birthday party next Friday at Gordon Biersch.

Because we have a large group, I want to coordinate the food and cost in advance so the party runs smoothly.

For the entrée, we request you order a pizza (except “make your own”) or a sandwich.

For the appetizers and desserts, I will order a few for the whole table to share.

As for paying, we’re going to split the costs (and pay for Dan’s meal). This should be fair because the pizza and sandwich entrees are similarly priced. It’s not perfect, but it will make collection easy.

I’ve estimated the costs and have a very good idea of what you’ll need to pay. The only difference is what you decide to drink. Here are the estimated costs:

No drink: Contribute $25
Soda: Contribute $28
1 Beer: Contribute $31.50
2 Beers: Contribute $38
n Beers: Contribute $25 + $6.50 n

Please pay me in cash before you start eating. In the unlikely event we’re short, I will ask everyone to chip in an extra dollar or two. Please don’t run to the bathroom when it comes time to pay the bill.

Let me know if you have any questions…

Under this solution, people will roughly pay for what they order, it’s easy to collect and enforce payment, and a good time should be had by all. No one will be surprised by the $25 minimum cost. Big spenders can order more beers for themselves.

Some of you might be thinking, “What, no wine? No steak?” I agree the choice is limited. But I think people are willing to give up a little choice in exchange for everyone having a good party. This is because parties are not about getting exactly what you want–you can do that on your own time. It’s about coordinating a large group.

Do you have another solution to the dining problem? Please share in the comments and I’ll post the best ideas.

Facebook’s New Terms Of Service

Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: “We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.” This month Facebook revised its Terms of Use, a document it is legally permitted to update at any time without informing users. Users demonstrate tacit acceptance of the Terms by continuous use of the site.

The revision grants Facebook complete, perpetual ownership of content uploaded or added to Facebook — including the rights to sublicense said content:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses.

The sublicense clause is of particular interest in a media landscape where users habitually share significant amounts of personal data on public websites — including Facebook, MySpace, flickr and blog platforms like Xanga or Blogger. Two years ago, a Dallas family sued Virgin Mobile/Australia for appropriating an image of their teenage daughter — which Virgin found on Facebook — for use in billboards and web ads.

Facebook’s Terms of Use previously stated that material uploaded onto the site falls under the license of the company. Prior to the February 4 update, however, users that removed their content from Facebook legally forfeited its license to their material, though the socnet reserved the right to maintain archives.

Prior to February 4, the Terms of Use read:

If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

The dramatic about-face peaked the interest of the The Consumerist, which today brought the news to the attention of an increasingly concerned Twittersphere. Throughout the morning hours, users repeatedly re-Tweeted the Consumerist’s spin on the news: Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: “We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.”

Facebook Joins Board of OpenID

Facebook has joined the board of OpenID, the open user-authentication system also used by MySpace, Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

“It is our hope that we can take the success of Facebook Connect and work together with the community to build easy-to-use, safe, open and secure distributed identity frameworks for use across the Web,” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s director of engineering, wrote in a blog post.

Facebook Connect lets users put their profile information on various Web sites across the Internet, register and sign in to the third-party sites using their Facebook login, access their friend lists, and share their current browsing activities on the connected sites with chosen friends.

Luke Shepard, a member of Facebook’s Platform and Connect teams, will join the eight-member OpenID board.

“Given the popularity and positive user experience of Facebook Connect, we look forward to Facebook working within the community to improve OpenID’s usability and reach,” board members David Recordon of SixApart and Chris Messina of Vidoop, wrote in a blog post.

Facebook initially deployed a proprietary log-in system for Connect while MySpace and Google used OpenID for their rival MySpaceID and Google Friend Connect services.

Since the December launch of Facebook Connect, it has been deployed on more than 4,000 Web sites and desktop applications, Schroepfer wrote.

The social networking site will host an OpenID Design Summit next week at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, he said.

“The summit will convene some of the top designers from Facebook, the DiSo Project, Google, JanRain, MySpace, Six Apart and Yahoo, focusing on how existing OpenID implementations could support an experience similar to Facebook Connect,” Recordon and Messina wrote.

“The core set of services and APIs we’ve introduced have allowed a thriving ecosystem to emerge,” Schroepfer continued. “In our view, the success of the Platform community is a result of the strength of the products we produce, the opportunities provided to developers, and the value they deliver to users.”

Yahoo joined OpenID in January 2008, and Microsoft, IBM, Google, and VeriSign followed suit a month later. MySpace issued its support in July 2008.

Andrew Nash, senior director of information risk management at PayPal, also joined the board in late January 2009.

Top 25 Celebrities on Twitter

If you haven’t quite caught on to the Twitter craze, now’s the time to. It’s a cool new way to keep track of news, your friends, and even your favorite celebrities. And speaking of celebrities, here’s a list of the top 25 celebrities to stalk on Twitter courtesy of MSN’s new gossip website, Wonderwall.

The celebrities that rank highly are often more prolific writers than others, and have something interesting to say (although if you read Britney Spears’ entries, you’ll find that this isn’t always the case.)


So without further ado, these are the top 25 celebs to follow on Twitter.

Stephen Fry –
John Mayer –
Britney Spears –
Tina Fey –
Ashton Kutcher –
Rainn Wilson –
Snoop Dogg –
Stephen Colbert –
Lance Armstrong –
Jimmy Fallon –
Russell Brand –
Pete Wentz –
Shaquille O’Neal –
Mischa Barton –
Vanessa Hudgens –
Rachel Bilson –
Al Gore –
MC Hammer –
Diablo Cody –
Luke Wilson –
Dave Matthews –
Christian Siriano –
Michael Phelps –
Eli Manning –

Social Media and e-learning

Global Organizations have started realizing the importance of having a “LEARNED” working force and the impact they can have to their core business. Traditionally these organizations have been investing a significant amount of money in training infrastructures which include classroom trainings, e- learning courses and tracking the competency of their employees through integrated Performance Tracking tools. However, the effectiveness of such trainings has always been debated and of late most of the market studies have corroborated the fact that these trainings are not as effective as they are expected to be. Market studies also state that most of the knowledge gained by individuals is through the day to day interactions they have with the people around and most of the time it is through informal mechanisms. The term ‘informal’ learning is fast catching up and organizations have started realizing the value in leveraging technology to implement such informal learning platforms. Collaboration solutions are aimed to provide this platform to the organizations by leveraging the Web 2.0 concepts and design.

The basic idea involves building a platform that acts as a meeting place for geographically separate employees to share their thoughts, views and get their questions answered. It’s an informal mechanism that not only makes it easy for an individual to learn new concepts, but also a reference platform that is available for a longer period that be referred to as and when required. Web 2.0 concepts like Blogs, Wikis, Discussion forums, Personalization, Targeted search and podcasting can be leveraged extensively to build such platforms. These platforms can also be designed for various portable devices, thus making them accessible to a wider audience that may not be computer savvy.

The Engineering of consent

The Engineering of Consent” is an essay by Edward Bernays first published in 1947. He defines “engineering consent” as the art of manipulation of people.
It maintained that entire populations, which were undisciplined or lacking in intellectual or definite moral principles, were vulnerable to the unconscious and undue influence so as make them want things that they do not need. This was achieved by linking those products and ideas to their unconscious desires. Ernest Dichter, who is widely considered to be the “father of motivational research,” referred to this as “the secret-self of the American consumer.”
In other words Consumer Psychologists have already made the choice for us before we buy a certain product. This is achieved by manipulating desires on an unconscious level.
The central idea behind the engineering of consent is that the public or people should not be aware of the manipulation taking place.

The embedded video is part of the BBC series The Century of the self. The program explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud’s ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses. Politicians and planners came to believe Freud’s underlying premise – that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany. To stop it ever happening again they set out to find ways to control this hidden enemy within the human mind.

Edward Bernays

Bernays was born in 1891 in Vienna to Jewish parents, he was nephew to psychoanalyst pioneer Sigmund Freud. His father was Ely Bernays, brother of Freud’s wife Martha Bernays. His mother was Freud’s sister, Anna. In 1892 his family moved to New York City. In 1912 he graduated from Cornell University with a degree in agriculture, but chose journalism as his first career.

As well as being influenced by his uncle Sigmund’s ideas of the Unconscious, Bernays applied the ideas of the French writer Gustave LeBon, the originator of Crowd psychology, and of Wilfred Trotter, who promoted similar ideas to the English speaking world in his famous book Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War. Bernays refers to these two names in his writings. Trotter, who was a head and neck surgeon at University College Hospital, London, read Freud’s works, and it was he who introduced Wilfred Bion, whom he lived and worked with, to Freud’s ideas. When Freud fled Germany for London at the start of World War II, Trotter became his personal Physician, and Wilfred Bion and Ernest Jones became key members of the Freudian Psychoanalysis movement in England, and would go on to develop the field of Group Dynamics, largely associated with the Tavistock Institute where many of Freud’s followers worked. Thus ideas of Group Psychology and Psychoanalysis came together in London around World War II

Bernays’s public relations efforts helped popularize Freud’s theories in the United States. Bernays also pioneered the PR industry’s use of psychology and other social sciences to design its public persuasion campaigns. “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.” (Propaganda, 2005 ed., p. 71.) He called this scientific technique of opinion-molding the “engineering of consent.”

In 1913, Bernays started his career as Press Agent, counseling to theaters, concerts and the ballet. In 1917, American President Woodrow Wilson engaged George Creel and realizing one of his ideas, he founded the “Committee on Public Information.” Bernays, Carl Byoir and John Price Jones worked together to influence public opinion towards supporting American participation in World War I.

In 1919, he opened an office as Public Relations Counselor in New York. He held the first Public Relations course at the University of New York in 1923, publishing the first groundbreaking book on public relations entitled Crystallizing Public Opinion that same year.

Corporate Social Networking

Corporate or enterprise, Social Networking (CSN) technology is changing the way relationships are formed and strengthened in business environments, and, therefore, is changing the way business is conducted. In the past, employees built relationships by working in close proximity or sharing information over the proverbial water cooler. As organizational structures evolve, disperse, and separate geographically, individuals have begun to initiate, extend, and manage their network of professional relationships through social, Web 2.0 technologies.

Online social networking within the enterprise increases the density of connections among individuals to drive business value. A Corporate Social Network is a collection of social networks, among which affinity groups of employees and other constituents learn about each other and interact through their own, individual profiles. Employees and other constituents may be members of multiple networks within the Corporate Social Network, requiring that their profiles be portable and able to collect and amalgamate information from that individual’s interactions and knowledge sharing among all of the corporate networks to which he or she has access. These networks are secure and private, open only to those constituencies identified by the enterprise, and they provide role-based access to people and information which are controlled by the enterprise, as well as varying levels of privileges for network administrators.

The connections fostered through Corporate or Enterprise Social Networks are anchored in affinity and beneficial to individual members through the people and information they are able to find, creating connections and knowledge capital that become attached to their profile and visible to other network members. Corporate Social Networks are used primarily to build trust and share knowledge on a peer-to-peer basis, as opposed to through documents that are subject to information obsolescence. Network members share knowledge in real-time, in effect creating a living knowledge map within the enterprise network. Today’s corporate environment is unique and dynamic; organizations are globally dispersed, high value is placed on knowledge, and requirements for innovation are ever growing. Companies that thrive in this environment are finding ways to connect their people through Corporate Social Networking.

Social Media and business 2.0

Many of you don’t visit blogs—or haven’t since blogs became a sensation in last year’s Presidential race. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, only 27% Some newer numbers: According to Forrester, 11.2% of online adults in the U.S. publish a blog at least once a month. Of the same group, 24.8% read a blog and 13.7% comment on a blog at least once a month. The numbers are higher for youths. Of online youths, 20.8% publish a blog, 36.6% read a blog, and 26.4% comment on a blog at least once a month. But I suspect the numbers are unreliable because many mainstream sites with millions of readers—celebrity site TMZ and gadget sites like Gizmodo—are actually blogs. But are all the readers aware of this? I doubt it. This is the blurring of the blog/mainstream divide, a theme we’ll see again and again in these revisions. of Internet users in America now bother to read them. So we’re going to take you into the world of blogs by delivering this story—call it Blogs 101 for businesses—in the style of a blog. We’re even sprinkling it with links. These are underlined words that, when clicked, carry readers of this story’s online version to another Web page. This all may make for a strange experience, but it’s the closest we can come to reaching out from the page, grabbing you by the collar, and shaking you into action.

First, a few numbers. There are some 9 million blogs out there, Yes, there were 9 million, but how many of them were active? Probably only a fraction. In early 2008, says Technorati Chairman David Sifry, the search company indexes 112 million blogs, with 120,000 new ones popping up each day. But only 11% of these blogs, he says, have posted within the past two months. That means the active universe is closer to 13 million blogs. Kevin Burton, CEO of FeedBlog, argues that the number should be lower, from 2 million to 4 million blogs. with 40,000 new ones popping up each day. Some discuss poetry, others constitutional law. And, yes, many are plain silly. “Mommy tells me it may rain today. Oh Yucky Dee Doo,” reads only one April Posting. Let’s assume that 99.9% are equally off point. What we didn’t see in early 2005 was the advent of the spam blog. These blogs, produced automatically, are designed to show up in search results and to attract Google advertisements known as Adsense. Sifry estimates that fully 99% of the blog posts reaching search engines are spam. So what? That leaves some 40 new ones every day that could be talking about your business, engaging your employees, or leaking those merger discussions you thought were hush-hush.
Give the paranoids their due. The overwhelming majority of the information the world spews out every day is digital—photos from camera phones, PowerPoint presentations, government filings, billions and billions of e-mails, even digital phone messages. With a couple of clicks, every one of these items can be broadcast into the blogosphere by anyone with an Internet hookup—or even a cell phone. If it’s scandalous, a poisonous e-mail from a CEO, for example, or torture pictures from a prison camp, others link to it in a flash. And here’s the killer: Blog posts linger on the Web forever.

Yet not all the news is scary. Ideas circulate as fast as scandal. Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to.