Internet Inequality

BBC News has a very interesting article about the differeneces between Myspace and Facebook users. I know a lot of people have high hopes that the internet will bring economic, social and racial equality to the world; after all, the barriers to entry are so small that everyone should be able to interact with each other, right? Unfortunately, the results speak for themselves.

Fans of MySpace and Facebook are divided by much more than which music they like, suggests a study. A six-month research project has revealed a sharp division along class lines among the American teenagers flocking to the social network sites. The research suggests those using Facebook come from wealthier homes and are more likely to attend college. By contrast, MySpace users tend to get a job after finishing high school rather than continue their education...

The conclusions are based on interviews with many teenage users of the social networking sites by PhD student Danah Boyd from the School of Information Sciences at UC Berkeley. In a preliminary draft of the research, Ms Boyd said defining "class" in the US was difficult because, unlike many other nations, it did not map directly to income. Instead, she said, class in the US was more about social life and networks - how people define themselves and who they define themselves with. "Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus 'class'," she wrote. Broadly, Ms Boyd found Facebook users tend to be white and come from families who are keen for children to get the most out of school and go on to college.

Characterising Facebook users she said: "They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities." By contrast, the average MySpace teenager tends to come from families where parents did not go to college, she said. Ms Boyd also found far more teens from immigrant, Latino and Hispanic families on MySpace as well as many others who are not part of the "dominant high school popularity paradigm". "MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracised at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers," she said. Teenage users of both sites have very strong opinions about the social network they do not use, she noted...

Million Dollar Question

There was an interesting blurb in today's Investors Business Daily that really caught my attention. According to a study by the London School of Economics, 33% of people aged 16-24 in the UK wouldn't give up the ability to use a cell phone if offered one million pounds (two million dollars). Are these people crazy!? I admit, cell phones are useful and it's hard to imagine a life without them, but for one million pounds I'd give up my cell phone in a second.

Even though the study is specific to Europe, I can't imagine the results being any different if Harvard ran the same experiment here. The part that amazes me most is that people aged 16-24 are the least likely to have ever seen one million pounds and most likely to be influenced by the lure of free money. Even though the London School of Economics doesn't say it explicitly, the conclusion of their study is that cell phone addition is becoming a serious problem. I think it would be extremely interesting to do this study ten years from now and see if more than 33% of people 16-24 would rather have a cell phone than one million pounds. If I had to guess, I'd bet that they'd pick the phone.

Journalistic Jokers

MSNBC ran a story a few days ago about journalists who donated to political campaigns. According to their findings, of the candidates studied, 125 gave to Democrats, 16 to Republicans and 2 to both. Unsurprisingly, the conservative media is having a field day with this story, confirming their theory that the media is heavily biased to the left.

I have two major problems with this silly theory. The first is that the average annual salary of journalists is just about the lowest for college educated adults. According to the Wall Street Journal, newspaper journalists make $28,000 per year and cable TV journalists make $30,000; donating any amount of money to make a difference in a campaign is logistically impossible. Of course the conservative media argues that it isn't about the amount they give but by the fact that they openly endorse liberal candidates. While I will not deny that these journalists are probably liberal, the fact is that they have little to no say as to what goes into the final newspaper or TV program. Rather, the corporations which control news networks (GE, CBS, Disney, News Corp, Time Warner, etc.) ultimately decide what is news and what is not. They decide whether a story is too conservative or too liberal. And these corporations, along with their executives, donate millions of dollars each year, mostly to conservative, pro-business candidates; this is the side of the story CNBC and Bill O'Reilly won't tell you.

The perfect example of corporations controlling what their journalists can do and say took place in Florida almost 10 years ago. Award winning journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson of FOX News wrote a story about the potentially dangerous effects of rBGH, a growth hormone given to cows and found in milk sold throughout the state. Days before the story aired, Monsanto, a chemical conglomerate told FOX that if the story aired they would pull advertisements from the network. FOX quickly responded by telling Akre and Wilson to alter the story, making it favorable to Monsanto; the journalists refused and FOX fired them without justification. Ultimately, it was corporate executives and their wealthy lawyers who wrote the story which later aired on FOX.

So conservatives can criticize journalists all they want for leaning to the left; but as long as they donate so little, and as long as they don't even get to decide what goes into the paper or on TV, does it even matter?

Airline Imposion

I've been hearing a lot about the new low coast carrier, Skybus, a lot lately because of the absurdly low prices. If Wal-Mart started an airline, you could say that this would be it.

Skybus advertises flights for only $10 to anywhere in the country. Sound too good to be true? It's because it is. Ever since Southwest Airlines proved that selling cheap airline tickets could make you the most popular and most profitable airline in the industry, everyone has tried to rip off the business model. I'll be honest, I love Southwest and would not want to fly on any other airline unless I absolutely had to. Its not just the cheap tickets - Southwest has built a culture and a very loyal following that no other airline can match. The problem is that all of the rip-off airlines try to emulate only some parts of the Southwest model and that alone isn't enough to succeed.

Back to Skybus. The company flies a fleet of 8 Airbus A319s; these planes can accommodate 156 passengers. Remember those awesome $10 fares? Well, only the first ten customers get that fare, everyone else has to pay regular (though competative) prices. Need to check a bag? That costs extra. Want some peanuts? All food and drinks cost extra. Want to take a nap? Pay up for that pillow. Need to make a connection for another flight? We forgot to mention that the $10 fare only applies to the first leg of the flight, the second leg will cost extra. Want a quick non-stop flight? Don't count on it since all flights are routed out of the Columbus airport.

In order to keep your costs so low, Skybus pays their flight attendants only $9 per hour. This is significantly lower than the competition pays, and quite frankly, about on par with what Starbucks pays. To cut down on costs of uniforms the company just hands out t-shirts with Skybus logos on them; and training can be quite expensive, so they pretty much half-ass that too. The flight attendants are paid commission on top of their $9 wage, so they'll be pushing food and drinks on you the entire flight; but lets be honest, anyone so cheap they're traveling on Skybus as opposed to any other low cost carrier (Southwest, Airbus, JetBlue, US Airways, Frontier, Virgin) probably isn't going to be buying a lot of cocktails anyway. The company has zero customer service since call centers would be far too costly; so if you lose a bag, you might as well forget about getting it back. Oh and by the way, Skybus has been notoriously bad at losing bags in its short life as an airline.

All reviews of the airline that I have read are very negative and I am don't believe this is a sustainable airline. JetBlue was set to be the first truly successful Southwest knock-off until they had a complete meltdown last winter, stranding passengers and canceling hundreds of flights. Unfortunately for Skybus, they operate out of Columbus, OH and I will not be surprised, in fact I expect to see reports of delays, cancellations and customers wishing they wouldn't have tried to travel on the cheap.

Skybus has so little going for it that I do not think it will last any significant period of time. Starting an airline is not like opening a coffee shop and why anyone would want to get into the least-profitable business in America is beyond me. Anyone remember Hooters Air? How about Eastwind Airlines, Southeast Airlines, Independence Air, Tower Air, Vanguard Airlines, National Airlines, or Midways Airlines? Probably not, because they are all Southwest rip-offs that were dismal failures. I expect to add Skybus to the list shortly.
After seven years of nonsense, this doesn't even surprise me anymore. The Associated Press recently ran a story about George W. Bush's trip to the Czech Republic to give a speech about freedom in the region. I'll let the Associated Press tell the rest...

On a day when he trumpeted democracy, President Bush noted the vital nature of a free press. Then he got a laugh when the press got stiffed. Bush joined Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and President Vaclav Klaus on Tuesday for a joint statement at Prague Castle. They stood at podiums, in a grand hall, before the media. A Czech moderator quickly kept reporters' expectations in check.

"This press conference is going to be without questions," he said. "Thank you for your understanding." That brought a hearty chuckle from Bush, who gave a mock apologetic shrug toward the U.S. press corps. At the microphone, Bush ticked through a host of international topics. Then he thanked his hosts for "a chance to discuss these issues with the media" _ apparently a one-way discussion.

Bush did have other chances to field queries. He turned them down. In two separate sessions to pose for pictures with the country's president and prime minister, Bush ignored questions about whether the U.S. is on the brink of another Cold War. He merely kept smiling and chatting with his hosts against the backdrop of the castle's gilded fixtures and sweeping views of mountains and the city below.