Blog: Jeffrey MacKie-Mason

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason is the associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Michigan School of Information. He is the Arthur W. Burks collegiate professor of information and computer science and is also a professor of economics and public policy.

Jeff is well known for his pioneering research on the economics of the Internet. He also works on the economics of other information technologies and of competition in high-technology markets. His recent work focuses on the economics of information content and usage, including projects on spam reduction, peer-to-peer resource sharing, and incentives to increase information security. He was the research director for the first large-scale field experiment on electronic commerce for electronic access to scholarly journals (PEAK). His publications appear in scholarly journals in the areas of economics,
computer science, public policy and library science, reflecting the multi-disciplinary nature of his research. His teaching includes courses on information policy, the economics of information, human choice and learning, incentive-centered design, and antitrust.

Jeff is the founding director of the Program for Research onthe Information Economy at the University of Michigan, which became STIET (Socio-Technical Infrastructure for Electronic Transactions). STIET has received over $9 million in funding for doctoral fellowships, research seminars, and training programs.

He has served as a consultant to AT&T, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, AOL Time Warner, EDS, Bell Atlantic, Qwest, Office Depot, Northwest Airlines, AMD, Masimo, Intergraph, Covad, GTE, Compuware, SBC, and many other companies. He has also advised the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission,
and other government agencies.

Jeff serves on the Advisory Committee to the National Science Foundation Directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), and on the Advisory Committee to the NSF Directorate of Computer and Information Science Engineering (CISE). 

He serves or has served on the editorial boards of the RAND Journal of Economics; Netnomics: Economic Research and Electronic Networking; Telecommunications Systems; Electronic Commerce Research; and Information Economics and Policy.

He has chaired or co-chaired the following conferences: the Eighth ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (2007); the Second ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (2001); the First International Conference on Information and Computational Economies (1998); and the program committee of the 25th Annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (1997).  He was also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason - Most Recent Posts:

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason - Post 4: Feeding the Knowledge Economy

 I've been writing about different ways that the University of Michigan's School of Information is providing entrepreneurs and innovation, and graduate, undergraduate and executive education to boost the development of a knowledge economy in Michigan. Now I'm going to describe an opportunity to learn, in person, about SI student innovations and skills. At expoSItion — next Monday, March 23, from 12 - 2pm in the Michigan League Vandenburg Room [map] [parking] — students will showcase projects developed this year.

Cutting-edge demos

Projects demonstrate cutting-edge social computing techniques, such as last year's audience-aware public display:
when a registered user passes by with a cell phone, the system immediately displays public photos from that user's online Flickr collection. Other students show off cool network visualizations of a wide range of social and commercial activities, such as free-riding on file-sharing networks, micro-loan repayment in developing economies, and the the viral spread of Facebook applications. Muse Comp, last year's overall winner, is a system of mobile devices that interact with museum displays for children to use while exploring and learning in a science museum.

Many of the projects are developed for submission to the annual, international student design competition at the CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) conference. In the last three years, SI students have placed in the top three in this prestigious event, with a first-place finish in 2007, and second-place in 2008. For 2009 (the first week of April, in Boston), five of the twelve finalist teams in this worldwide competition are from SI.

The CHI competition projects are constrained by a theme each year, usually related to public service or social issues. In 2007 the theme was alternative transportation; the SI entry, altVerto, won with its application of a key  influencing concept: computer-mediated intervention at decision-making moments.

The goal for this year's CHI competition projects is to develop systems that encourage the use of local resources in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. One such SI project on display at expoSItion is eXtend: a resource tracking system to help reuse information technology equipment in a large organization. Take high-end IT (from the research lab, say, or the finance department), and, after it's become too dated for advanced needs, pass it on to less demanding uses within the organization. The key is a nimble, user-friendly system for tracking and matching needs to opportunities.

WantKnot is doing something similar with industrial waste: matching producers with local consumers of that waste (one man's poison, etc.). One example is the reuse of slag from steel production (I'm not sure who uses it, but apparently some companies do). Two other groups are prototyping systems that make it easier for southeast Michigan consumers to find and buy food that is grown or produced locally.

Employer participation

Employers attend the expoSItion to see SI students' skills in action and to aid in their recruitment efforts.
Attending the exposition allows employers to evaluate presentation skills of potential interns/employees (something you don't get in a typical interview process), build relationships with students, and to generate interest and awareness of their organizations. To provide more to meet and discuss possibilities, the expoSItion is preceded by a Networking Fair (10am - 12pm, Michigan League Hussey Room).

Employers walk away with an understanding of SI, and of how the skills and talents of our students fit into their organizations. They also walk away with resumes of every student participant for continued recruitment efforts. Some job and internship offers have been made on the spot after viewing students' projects and presentations.

By the way, here's some good news about the knowledge economy in southeastern Michigan: despite the sharp economic downturn this year, the number of companies so far registered to attend expoSItion is a bit higher than last year. Overall, the economy is contracting, but innovative information businesses and the use of innovative systems in business is a shining light in a dark year.

(This entry was written with the assistance of Joanna Kroll, director of career services and practical engagement, and Frank DeSanto, communications manager, at the University of Michigan School of Information.)

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason - Post 3: Back to the Future: Preparing for the Knowledge Economy

Turn back the dial a few years. Spring 1993: the first version Mosaic browser (later to become Netscape) is released, and the World Wide Web is effectively born. (The protocols and a handful of documents were created earlier, but only a few physicists knew about it before Mosaic.) That's right: only 16 years ago there was no Web, practically speaking.

Now dial forward just three years to 1996: The University of Michigan boldly created the new School of Information (SI). This school was developed and proposed by a partnership between a number of social scientists and technologists from multiple departments, and the former School of Information and Library Sciences. The mission: "To connect people, information and technology in more valuable ways." The University of California at Berkeley followed suit a year later. Today, there are 23 schools in the iCaucus.

One of the crucial questions upon the creation of SI: What to call it? The committee tasked with this solemn task started with a list of 75 possibilities. Previously, old-style schools dealing with information always called themselves something like "information studies" or "library and information sciences", or "information management and systems". When we came up with "School of Information", well, people laughed at us. "What is the rest of the university going to do? Isn't it all information?" At our first Christmas party, one faculty wag predicted that in 10 years we would change our name again, to "The School". We haven't gotten there quite yet ….

Dial forward to today. The University has made a strategic and growing commitment to offer the best modern information school in the world. This rests on a firm belief that the future of the economy — in southeast Michigan, as well as nationally and globally — depends on making information technology work better for and with people: "connecting people, information and technology in more valuable ways". Computer engineers alone cannot solve the problems that will stimulate new businesses and new jobs. What is crucial is understanding the human and social aspects of information and information systems, and applying this human-centered knowledge to design and management. And so, we have SI.

"We need an integrated understanding of human needs and their relationships to information systems and social structures. We need unifying principles that illuminate the role of information in both computation and cognition, in both communication and community. We need information professionals who can apply these principles to synthesize human-centered and technological perspectives." (Excerpted from SI Mission Statement)

As we move from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, we need to transform educational offerings to prepare leaders and entrepreneurs to be ready to work across all industries (not just in software or computer companies!), and to create new industries. (See a recent report on "Michigan's Transition to a Knowledge Economy".)

Since 1996, SI has offered a professional Master's degree program, and a Ph.D. program to train advanced researchers and new faculty. This year (2008-09) we started an undergraduate program (in collaboration with the College of Engineering, and the College of Literature, Science and Arts).

Our two-year Master's program currently has about 350 students; 45% of them are from Michigan, but 20% are international. This is an amazingly diverse pool of future innovators and managers, with talent for any setting: they collectively represent more than 70 different undergraduate majors! Each completes one or more "specializations", of which we offer nine (plus the opportunity to create a "Tailored" specialization). These include human-computer interaction, information analysis and retrieval, social computing, incentive-centered design, preservation of information, and library services. Our graduates are talented: in our most recent survey, 99% of 2007 grads were successfully placed within six months.

Our new undergraduate Informatics program is just getting underway, but is already generating excitement. Experts in informatics design information technology tools for scientific, business, and cultural needs, and study how such tools are used. They might, for example, help develop the systems that let your doctor quickly share your medical records with a specialist while still ensuring your privacy. One track in the program is "Social Computing": we jokingly call it "a degree in Facebook", but see my earlier article on social computing in the enterprise.

As Michigan moves, inevitably and with haste, from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, we are fortunate that the University of Michigan was looking forward in 1996 and today boasts one of the top information schools in the country.

(This entry was written with the assistance of Judy Lawson, director of academic and career services at the University of Michigan School of Information.)

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason - Post 2: Facebooking is not just for kids

When you look around and see one corporation after another in crisis, you might wonder how employees get the latest information about staffing changes, new policies, and whatever other urgent matters that may come about. No doubt they use e-mail as a "first responder" approach, but then what? Everyone is left alone to sort out thoughts and feelings and develop responses to changing conditions. This is one situation — of many — in which social computing can make a difference in the enterprise.

Not only can corporations quickly communicate with their employees using the latest Enterprise 2.0 technologies and emdash applications running on the corporate intranet that function like
Facebook, Twitter, etc. — but these social apps also provide online "water coolers" for employees to share information, ask advice, and even comfort each other.

Other social computing capabilities offer the enterprise opportunities to differentiate and innovate. Consider prediction markets, popular for social chatter and opinion aggregation on anything from the outcome of a Lions game
(well, that one is pretty much a foregone conclusion!) to next weekend's box office winner, to the winner of the presidential election (see, e.g., Intrade and Hollywood Stock Exchange and the Iowa Electronic Markets). Prediction markets are used by enterprises to predict next week's price of key commodity inputs, or the sales of a new product release, for example.

Tools that harvest and organize the "wisdom of the crowd", such as Amazon book reviews and its "people who bought Wuthering Heights also purchased..." recommender systems, or Wikipedia's user knowledge aggregation, or CiteULike's system for collecting and sharing knowledge references, can be adapted to internal knowledge sharing, creating, and recommending needs. Community question answering systems like Yahoo! Answers can supplement internal help desk teams. But bringing these wild and woolly Internet communities and their platforms inside the enterprise takes more than just setting up an account and directing employees to it.

To that end, the School of Information has just launched an executive education program in collaboration with social computing company NewsGator. Our first course is "Making Social Computing Work in Your Enterprise," a framework for understanding Enterprise 2.0 in terms of business objectives rather than technology features. The course also explores economic, social, and psychological principles that can help Enterprise 2.0 rollouts succeed.

The program is coordinated by my colleague, Professor Paul Resnick, who has been one of the early innovators in several different social computing technologies. While still a Ph.D. student, he helped develop one of the first
online user-driven recommender systems. He co-wrote the PICS standard for organizations to label their web sites and Internet content so that users (and parents!) could filter out unwanted material. He undertook some of the early
studies that measured the value of reputation systems such as we see on eBay, then provided value-based design guidance. Currently, he is co-editing and contributing to a handbook for managers, entrepreneurs and social service
providers who want to implement successful online communities.

"Online communities, social networking, and user-contributed content dominate the consumer world, and businesses yearn to capture the power of these new models to improve performance," according to Paul. This explains the need to
transfer social computing technologies to enterprise settings, along with the knowledge of how to develop and sustain their user communities.

"Unfortunately, an organization can't simply copy and paste consumer social computing tools into the enterprise and hope employees make good use of them. This course will help managers and executives choose the right technical
features, according to their business needs, and plan the social interventions that will motivate employees to participate."

If you want to learn more about this course, visit the web site. This is one example of how the School of Information at U-M is bringing knowledge economy ideas, experience and training out to Michigan businesses.

Oh, yeah: I'll be there. I'm teaching one module on prediction markets, and another on pragmatic lessons for social computing gleaned from economics, game theory and social psychology.

(This entry was written with the assistance of Jay Jackson, editor at the University of Michigan School of Information.)

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason - Post 1: IT Startups in Ann Arbor

My general theme this week will be knowledge economy opportunities for southeastern Michigan at and coming out of the University of Michigan. 

When we talk about the economic climate in Michigan, we have to talk about entrepreneurial excitement. Innovative information technology startups are crucial. Startups help us lure the young and hip to southeast Michigan, and they are the ones figuring out how to build the future, today.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made nine "backyard musical" movies for MGM. The generic plot involved kids who needed to raise some money to solve a problem, which they managed after Mickey would say "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" Michigan is a state that thrived on manufacturing innovation. In the future, we will be looking to information technology innovation. And the "kids" have already started putting on the show.

Undergraduate through PhD students at the University of Michigan School of Information (SI) have been launching exciting new businesses. Below are some examples – just a taste of the entrepreneurial energy brewing in Ann Arbor.

Troubadour Mobile
Three of our master's students launched this mobile software startup last spring and succeeded in winning venture
funding for summer 2008 from Ann Arbor-based RPM Ventures. As the name suggests, they're focused on software for mobile devices: Apple's iPhone, initially. "Our long term goal is to have your mobile phone predict the future," they say (I think tongue in cheek!).

They finished their first iPhone application, Let's Pizza!, at the end of last
summer. Walk down a street, pop open your iPhone, click the Let's Pizza! icon, and you get a list of the nearest
pizza places. Geo-aware applications will become common when more mobile phones are equipped with built-in GPS, as the iPhone already is. This is a hot market opportunity: An August 2008 report from ABI Research predicts revenues of $3.3 billion for the location-based mobile market by 2013.

One advantage of a world-class research university is that it is rich with
talented people willing to share ideas and give feedback. The Troubadourians
have tapped their fellow master's students for help in designing and improving the usability of their next apps:
Let's Meet! and Let's Vote! Indeed, every day at SI you can find students pitching ideas to each other, participating in design workshops and "hacker jams", and presenting demos to potential investors and employers.
The interactive Web is all about human communications, especially asking
questions and getting answers. And in the modern business world, communication — whether with customers, suppliers,
or partners — is key to success.

Three graduate students recently launched This startup offers a service that lets you chat in real-time with visitors to your Web site using your favorite instant messaging software: iChat, GoogleTalk, AIM, Jabber, or whatever you use.

Many high-end corporate sites have built chat tools into their customer service Web pages. Such systems are costly to build and maintain (or purchase from vendors). But with, a Web site manager simply registers with, copies a line of JavaScript code, and pastes it into a Web page. Every small business or new startup can have a chat-enabled Web site within five minutes. The chat bar floats in the lower right-hand corner of the browser window. When a visitor clicks it, a small chat window launches in her browser, and a message appears in your instant messaging client letting you know a visitor wants to chat.'s basic service is free. The business plan counts on income streams from selling premium service plans and co-branded solutions. The free version is proving popular: has about 12,000 registered users and it's signing up almost 500 more each week.

And what's with that .la domain? Officially it belongs to Laos, but it's become an unofficial domain for Los Angeles, which claims to be the first city in the world with its own top-level domain.

Magical Pork
Magical Pork is a new company started by an SI doctoral student to build mashup solutions. "Mashup" is a general
term for anything digital that's put together with pieces of other things digital. In this case the mashups are Web applications that pull data or services from multiple sources.

One early offering is SayWhat?, a service sold to private clients which lets you keep up on what people are saying about your company (or any other given topic) in the Twitterverse (yes, Twitterverse). To illustrate SayWhat?, Magical Pork offers the free Tweeteorology, which pulls together tweets (Twitter postings, of course) about the weather in any city or ZIP code you specify. Just enter a location, and in a flash it combines information from Twitter, Google Maps and WeatherBug to show what people in that area are live tweeting about the current weather, together with a traditional forecast.

Another Magical Pork mashup is Many Flyers. This is an an online travel search tool to ease event planning. The tool helps you search for flights from many origins that arrive at a single destination at roughly the same time, perfect for coordinating a trip with friends and family.
The inspiration for the unforgettable name? The founder's mean carnitas.

(This entry was written with the assistance of Frank DeSanto, communications manager at the University of Michigan School of Information.)