IM usage stats

(found via Dare’s blog) What do you think the most widely used Instant Messaging platform is? I would have guessed AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) since I remember it having been around back when IM was a new thing. I’d be wrong though, very wrong according to the recent stats. Even before Yahoo and MSN announced interoperability between their messengers, each of them was bigger than AOL – by a lot.

In May ’06, MSN was the leader with 204 million users. Yahoo had 77 million. AIM was down around 33 million… roughly tied with ICQ. MSN has also been growing since last year, while the other two had been shrinking.

How businessmen are portrayed on TV

This short article from the Wall Street Journal is interesting (found via the Freakonomics Blog):

The study, titled “Bad Company,” looked at the top 12 TV dramas during May and November in 2005, ranging from crime shows like “CSI” to the goofy “Desperate Housewives.” Out of 39 episodes that featured business-related plots, the study found, 77% advanced a negative view of the world of commerce and its practitioners.

On the various “Law & Order” shows, for instance, almost 50% of felonies–mostly murders–were committed by businessmen. In almost all of the primetime programs, when private-sector protagonists showed up, they were usually doing something unethical, cruel or downright criminal.

It’s kind of interesting to me, because I watch those shows all the time and never noticed.

Interesting Article on Choice

(linked from Signals vs. Noise). This article is a pretty interesting overview of some studies of how people behave in the face of multiple choices.

For one thing, choice can be “de-motivating.” In a study conducted several years ago, shoppers who were offered free samples of six different jams were more likely to buy one than shoppers who were offered free samples of twenty-four. This result seems irrational—surely you’re more apt to find something you like from a range four times as large—but it can be replicated in a variety of contexts.

American football – not well understood by Freakonomics

This blog post, proposing an NFL consolation game like the World Cup’s, demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of American football. I would have commented at the site, but others commented well enough about why having a consolation game would be a bad idea (one person even pointed out that we used to have one).

To summarize why it’s a bad idea:

  1. There are too many injuries in football, and no one would want to risk an injury for a game that doesn’t matter.
  2. The outcome of the NFL playoffs isn’t a stack ranking of teams from best to worst. There is no round-robin or multi-game series’. There is just a winner, and everyone else loses.
  3. Similar to the last point, if we introduced the concept of a stack ranking (even if it’s 1-4) that in some respects diminishes the value of the Superbowl, which is the game, seperated by two weeks from all other games, determining one winner.
  4. Numerous people don’t even think it’s a good idea in soccer.

Soccer's flaws make it hard to get into.

This year I watched more of the World Cup than I ever had. I was in Europe for the Euro two years ago, and I saw how exciting soccer could be (namely, when you’re in a bar with a ton of excited drunken people).

Watching quietly at home, it’s somewhat exciting only because the stadium is full of screaming fans. Beyond that, I found a number of aspects of the sport annoying. Namely:

  1. After overtime, penalty kicks. No one seems to like this rule – the fans, the announcers, no one. Penalty kicks aren’t soccer. They might as well say “after the game ends, the two teams will play miniature golf to determine the winner” because the activity they’re participating in is not the same sport they’d just been playing for two hours. If no one likes this method of ending a game, they should just change the rule.
  2. Mid-game penalty kicks. It seems a fact of the sport is that the games are going to be low-scoring (compared to basketball, football, or even baseball). If two teams play well on offense and defense, that’s how it’s going to be. You only get a handful of shots on goal, and of those shots, only a small percentage of them go in. However, if a foul happens in the penalty box, that’s a penalty kick. The odds of scoring on a penalty kick must be several orders of magnitude higher than scoring in the middle of the game. The goalie is at a huge disadvantage, and basically has to guess at which way to jump, and often look foolish jumping away from the ball. Unlike a free throw in basketball, which doesn’t count for much relative to the rest of the scoring, one penalty kick can count for 100% of the scoring in a soccer game (as just happened in the France-Portugal game).
  3. There always seems to be someone crying on the ground. I think this has a lot to do with point #2. Because the penalties can be so severe, it encourages people to pretend they were injured during a play. It’s far worse than a typical basketball “flop” to try and earn an offensive foul. It eats up more time, and generally looks wimpier. Flopping in basketball these days is an obvious thing. People don’t pretend to be hurt, they just make it obvious that they were knocked down. They then get right back up.
  4. The clock doesn’t make any sense. Why do they let the clock run, and then add on time at the end? If they’re keeping track of the delta between active gameplay and real time, why don’t they just save themselves the math and stop the clock when the gameplay stops? That way teams can accurately manage the clock throughout the half, and strategize appropriately. As it is, it seems like the clock runs out, and then you find out how much extra time you get. You can’t manage that time until you know how much it is. Maybe it’s just my love for [American] football that causes me to place a lot of value in clock management.

I won’t knock Soccer for being low-scoring, because that’s kind of a cop-out complaint. If you really love and appreciate the sport, a low-scoring game is probably very exciting. However, the fact that it’s low scoring does make it harder to get into for new people, because scoring is an easy to appreciate aspect of any sport.