Location based services yield more accurate rankings than algorithms used by top review-ranking sites

It’s always fun to find cutting edge research that—when applied—has the potential to disrupt established business models. The subject matter of this research (.pdf download) has the potential to do just that: disrupt review-ranking services like Yelp and Zagat.

The researchers point out several negatives with these review-ranking services: they’re subject to expert bias, spoofing the system (i.e., marketers posting the reviews as opposed to genuine users), etc. As an alternative model the researchers developed a service called “SocialTelescope” which leverages location based services to track user interactions.

SocialTelescope used geo-tweets generated by Twitter users who also used services like Foursquare to discern popularity of locations. The basic premise is that the more check-ins a place has the more popular it is. Users are not taking any other action aside from checking-in to demonstrate their vote for a place.

Understandably, there’s also a qualitative issue to address: even though someone checked in they may still have hated the experience and, thus, a review site is more accurate (the premise being that a purposeful and explicit action taken by a user is more meaningful and accurate). However, the researchers tackled this issue by focusing on a inferred methodology:

 SocialTelescope does not consider all users to be the same, when computing popularity of a location. Instead, users are assigned a score based on their expertise on the search keyword. For a given search key- word, SocialTelescope assigns expertise scores to users as the number of times that user has visited any place that matches the search keyword. The intuition behind computing expertise is that, say, when ranking restaurants that serve seafood, people who visit lots of seafood restaurants can be considered seafood connoisseurs, and so their choices can be given a greater weight.

The researchers compared their results against the review-ranking sites and found that SocialTelescope was at least as accurate as these sites. The potential for disruption resides in the fact that a new company can now leverage location based services at a fairly low cost and return results that are just as accurate as their competitors. Thus, the barrier to entry in this space has been significantly lowered. I highly recommend everyone who is an analysis junkie to read the entire paper, as the researchers have done an excellent job describing their methodology and made great use of visuals.

Photo credit: TechCrunch


Privacy expectations regarding mobile apps, insights through crowdsourcing

This research article, written by a consortium of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Rutgers University, outlines core issues related to users’ expectations regarding privacy and mobile apps. The researchers used the concept of mental models to frame their study.

Here’s how the researchers describe “mental model”:

All people have a  simplified model that describes what people think an object does and how it works (in our case, the object is an app). Ideally, if a person’s mental model aligns with what the app actually does, then there would be fewer privacy problems since that person is fully informed as to  the app’s behavior. However, in practice, a person’s mental model is never perfect.

The researchers posited that when there’s a disconnect between a user’s mental model as to how an app operates with respect to information users would regard as private (e.g., location or contact records) users view such an operation as illegitimate and, thus, a breach of privacy. To address this issue the researches formulated a new concept in mobile privacy called privacy as expectations, where they determine these expectations via crowdsourcing. Previous research has focused on using automated analysis to discern users’ privacy thresholds. But the researchers argue that this purely analytical method is flawed and, thus, proposed a crowdsourcing model.

The end result of their study yielded a proposed interface when downloading apps:

Figure 2 from research article

Having a clear and concise understanding of privacy issues relating to apps during download (like Figure 2 above) improves a user’s experience. Using such an interface gives users notice and choice. I agree with the researchers that this model of displaying privacy issues related to downloading mobile apps is a bit of a break-through in regards to the issue of users’ controlling their privacy, and deciding when and under what circumstances to give up their privacy.

Photo credit: Michael Francis McArthy

Houzz.com survey details home improvement and remodeling factors that matter most to homeowners

I am delighted to publish this guest post by Houzz.com . The post details interesting stats relating to home remodeling and improvement. If you’re not familiar with Houzz.com, it’s a cool site that curates compelling, visually-driven content combined with advice and discussion forums. I decided to publish this submission from Houzz.com because it includes data and statistics that can help homeowners make more informed remodeling and home improvement decisions. I have not received any in-kind payment or gifts from Houzz for publishing their guest post. There are two sections to the guest post: a discussion of the Houzz.com survey data and an infographic.


UPDATE: In addition to the regional information originally detailed below by Houzz, they’ve included some national stats. Again, I view this information as useful data points for homeowners and real estate professionals.

Byline: Liza Hausman, Houzz.com

The recent survey of nearly 30,000 Houzz users nationwide found that homeowner priorities when it comes to remodeling and decorating are focused on improving their own quality of life rather than considering the next buyer.

Among homeowners planning to build, remodel or decorate in the next two years, 86 percent cited “improving the look and feel of the space” as an important driver for remodeling projects, while only 47 percent cited ”increasing home value.” The gap between these priorities was consistent across all income levels and demographic groups.

The study also found that 68% of homeowners get their primary ideas and advice when it comes to remodeling and decorating online.

These trends – a long-term outlook and reliance on information found online –   explain why real estate professionals’ are turning to visual technologies and tools like Houzz to help bring to life the potential or vision for a home. As one realtor noted, “If a clients tells me she’s pregnant, I create an ideabook on Houzz of nurseries. If a client is relocating to DC and concerned about space, I create an ideabook to show how to create a home office in a small space.”

In the next two years, 72 percent of homeowners surveyed plan to decorate or redecorate, 40 percent plan to remodel or construct an addition, while 10 percent are planning to build a custom home. Custom homes are particularly popular in the South. Top U.S. cities for custom home builds are Jackson, Mississippi where 21 percent of homeowners surveyed are building the home of their dreams from scratch, and Houston, TX and Little Rock, AR, which both reported 18 percent of homeowners planning to build new.

Kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular remodeling projects among Houzz users, with 48 percent of respondents planning a bathroom remodel, and 45 percent redoing a kitchen in the next two years. Midwesterners have the highest budgets for kitchen and bath remodels at $30,500 and $13,600 respectively, while the South is allocating the least at $23,800 and $11,600.

57 percent of Houzz homeowners planning to complete a project in the next two years will hire a general contractor, 35 percent a kitchen or bath professional and 32 percent will hire a carpet or flooring professional.  Thirty percent are planning to hire an architect, 26 percent an interior designer and 24 percent a landscape architect or designer.

About half — 52 percent — say they will save money by completing some projects themselves.

In fact, even upscale homeowners are taking a hands-on approach to building, remodeling and decorating projects. The survey found that while 45 percent of homeowners at upper income levels ($150,000+) are choosing to hire an architect, interior designer, general contractor or another remodeling or decorating professional to complete a project in its entirety, an equal number of them are combining professional help and DIY efforts, a proportion only slightly smaller than the 49 percent taking this combination approach in lower income brackets.


Central Virgina Homeowners Prioritize Style Over Profit

Even as new and existing home sales and prices climb, Central Virginia homeowners are prioritizing aesthetics before profit, according to a recent Houzz & Home Survey conducted among users of the Houzz app and website. Houzz is an online platform for home design and remodeling, with more than five million unique users of the site and iPad app each month

The recent survey of nearly 30,000 users nationwide found that homeowner priorities when it comes to remodeling and decorating are to improve their own quality of life. In Central Virginia and the South Atlantic specifically, 85 percent of homeowners cited “improving the look and feel of the space” as an important driver for remodeling projects, 69 percent cited “improving the flow and functionality” and only 46 percent citing ”increasing home value.”

Among Central Virginia and South Atlantic area homeowners on Houzz, 74 percent plan to decorate or redecorate, 40 percent plan to remodel or construct an addition in the next two years, 14 percent plan to purchase a new home, and 8 percent plan to build a custom home.

Kitchen remodels and bathroom remodels are the most popular major projects among South Atlantic homeowners surveyed, with 34 percent of respondents redoing a kitchen and 36 percent planning a bathroom remodel in the next two years. Area homeowners are budgeting an average of $25,400 for a kitchen remodel and $10,700 for a bathroom remodel, 6 percent and 5 percent below the national averages respectively.

The majority of homeowners in the South Atlantic region taking on projects are hiring some help. 61 percent of area homeowners planning to complete a project in the next two years will hire a general contractor, fifty percent will hire a carpet or flooring professional, twenty-seven percent a kitchen or bath professional and twenty-seven percent also said they will hire a landscape architect or designer. 23 percent will hire an interior designer, while only nineteen percent are planning to hire an architect.  More than half — 52 percent — say they will consider saving money by completing some projects themselves.

In this economy, prioritizing livability over return on investment may seem like an irrational approach, but people today are looking at their homes as a long-term sanctuary, not a quick flip. This new rationale is also reflected in homeowners’ approach to financing.  When asked if they are planning to take a line of credit to fund their remodeling projects, 75 percent of homeowners in the Central Virginia/South Atlantic area said “No way.”  They’d rather cut back on vacations or other major purchases to make their dream home a reality.