Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tsu and the Art of Social Media

Have you heard of Tsu? It's a new social media platform with the revolutionary idea that users should be paid fairly for the content they produce. Tsu also makes use of a very smart referral system to incentivize users to sign up. You can join Tsu via my profile page if you'd like to check it out while you read (and hook me up with a referral bonus).

What it is

Tsu is a social network combining features from sites like Facebook and Twitter. It's like Victor Frankenstein hacked off the best pieces of existing social media and amalgamated them into one being sewn up with a very pretty user interface. All of your favorite features are here. I can "like" posts that show up in my feed. I can choose to follow or friend other users, which allows varying levels of privacy with post visibility. Topics can #trend, and every post has an option to share to my other social media sites (which I can connect to my profile) with a simple click. The site is very mature for how young it is.

My profile page with all the functionality of standard social sites.

That said, there is still a lot of room for growth. Standard features, like being able to block users, are still being developed. The site loads a little slowly on servers powered by startup dollars. Groups and events don't exist (yet). Concepts like pages for businesses or celebrities aren't differentiated from regular users. Some of the embed functionality isn't as pretty as it is on legacy social media sites with a few years of coding under their belts (granted most of it is still pretty passable). There's room for improvement, but I'm still extremely impressed with what I'm seeing in the early stages. That said, Tsu also utilizes some revolutionary features which are the main reason you should pay attention (and also why I'm writing this post).

Tsu pays users 90% of the money they make. I haven't made anything yet.

Tsu pays out up to 90% of the money they make back to the user. They take 10% to keep the site and servers up and running, but then give back the rest to both the person creating/sharing/interacting with the content, as well as the group of users who referred them into the network. This is huge.

Pretty clear breakdown of how this works. Courtesy of the Tsu FAQ page.

Facebook expects you to do all this for free. You get to plug in to their excellent product while they milk advertising and insight dollars from the data you provide them. Tsu offers all the same functionality of Facebook, but pays you to use it.

I want Stephen Colbert to click my Tsu link and share things to his 7 million followers.

Notice how Tsu also pays based on how you refer people into the site. If you're three connections away from a Stephen Colbert, then you are making 3% of the revenue he generates for the site. The only way you can join the site is to enter from someone else's profile page, so this referral tree is automatically generated, tracked, and accounted for in the revenue sharing. This is very, very smart.

Why it's smart

The referral system Tsu is using is based on a very smart technique that MIT students developed and used to win a national DARPA contest back in 2009. The technical name is called the recursive incentive mechanism, and was first used to locate 10 red weather balloons placed in random locations around the united states in ~9 hours using only social media. The basic idea, is that you pay the people, that recruit the people that make you money, in a chain that goes back a few links. This incentivizes people to share your new social media site (or red balloon mission) to the most people possible so they optimize the amount of $$$ they bring in. The system is also set up in a way where people won't mind being shared too, since it doesn't hurt them.

Social networks can quickly grow out of control with a single share.

The only real way to game the system is to refer yourself via two fake accounts before you share to everyone you know (that way you can multiply your income out), but that would take a lot of effort since you need to deposit money into real bank accounts which would be tricky to fake and easy to detect dupes. This is a very well-designed system utilized by the Tsu social network.

Why Tsu will work

Tsu is taking an "All Killer, No Filler" approach with creating their social network. They're taking all the good parts from facebook and similar sites, and then combining them into one super network. I don't have an algorithm deciding what I can (and can't) see. I don't have content that I didn't choose to follow forced upon me. Oh, and Tsu will pay me for what I contribute as well as give me a bonus for the efforts of people I recruit. Paying people for their content and influence is a radical change, and like Tsu says, "The right thing to do". This is dramatically different from the status quo, and will catch on and grow by design.

Check it out for yourself and be an early adopter here:
(and give me a follow if you want to be internet pals)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why you shouldn't worry about Ebola

Everyone and their mother is worried about Ebola right now. They shouldn't be. Writing this post to lay down some facts and let a few of my more hysterically inclined friends sleep easier at night.

My Credentials

Hi! My name's Matt and I have a Master's degree from the University of Michigan School of Public Health for Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology. That means I dedicated 2 years of my life learning about the math and biology behind diseases like Ebola, and was competent enough to pass all my exams and graduate. Being taught by infectious disease experts means I know a little more about diseases and how they spread compared to your friend Larry on facebook. Wanted to share some knowledge so you know how to protect yourself and impress your friends at the cool kid parties with your newfound Ebola wisdom.

Ebola basics

First off, everything you could ever want to know about Ebola can be found on the CDC website. Most of what I'm going to say is copy/pasted from there. For me, I understand a virus better once I break down how it works at a micro level. Check out this great video which explains the inner workings of Ebola:

(Skip to ~1:43 if you don't want to watch the entire video)

Let's simplify that a little further. Think of your body's cells like exclusive nightclubs. They have bouncers standing guard (glycoprotein receptors) at the entrances to make sure only VIPs can enter. The Ebola virus has a bunch of fake IDs (glycoproteins) that it uses to trick your cells' bouncers into letting it get inside the club. Once it's in there, the Ebola virus shoots out its RNA (viral blueprints) and hijacks your cell's replication machinery to create more Ebola viruses (Punches out the bartender and starts making drinks? I'm done with this metaphor...). Ebola specifically targets your liver cells, cells lining blood vessels, and certain cells in the immune system. So when immune cells go to fight the virus on blood vessels, they will often get infected and compromised into virus factories. This is one of the reasons that the virus has such a long incubation period (time it takes to show symptoms), since your immune cells can take 2-21 days (7-8 days is the average amount of time) before they can raise the alarms and start responding to the virus in force.

Your immune system work has to work extra hard against Ebola.

Symptoms and Transmission

Ebola causes the following symptoms once it has had time to incubate:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
The virus is often hard to spot since most of these symptoms are shared by common viruses like influenza (the flu). This similarity to other diseases leads health officials to worry about hysteria. However, unlike the flu which can spread a few days before symptoms, Ebola is not contagious until symptoms present themselves, and you can only get Ebola by exposing your mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose, genitals, open cuts, etc.) to an infected person's bodily fluids. Here's a quick video created by some of my former teachers explaining how Ebola spreads from person to person:

The U of M Epidemiology team has prepared more videos like the above which can be found here.
(If you're curious)


Kind of mean, but the right way to think about Ebola.

So to sum up, don't come in contact with the bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected individual. Here's every way the disease can be transmitted, copy/pasted from the CDC:

When an infection does occur in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with...
  • Blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • Objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
  • Infected animals
  • Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. Abstinence from sex (including oral sex) is recommended for at least 3 months. If abstinence is not possible, condoms may help prevent the spread of disease.

So Why Is Ebola So Scary?

Once you get Ebola, it's a very nasty disease with a very high mortality rate. Looking at past outbreaks, on average ~50% of infected persons die. At the same time, you should consider that the disease has never been in the United States until a month ago, and that medical care in Africa is DRAMATICALLY worse than what we have in America. The CDC is also aggressively tracking and controlling the spread of the virus to nip it in the bud before it can grow out of hand.

Hans Rosling is correct that we need to spend our resources stopping the spread of Ebola before it snowballs out of control. This is why the world is infuriated by the incompetence of the healthcare workers handling the first US Ebola patient. One of them even took a plane trip after exposing herself, endangering the lives of 132 other passengers (the CDC has isolated these people and is closely monitoring them). These are the kinds of mistakes that will allow the disease to spread, and they must be eliminated.

We can't be too mad at the Texas healthcare workers though. The disease has never before been on US soil and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who routinely recognizes and treats Ebola patients. An honest mistake was made during the initial triage. But any mistake that leads to anal bleeding is a painful lesson to learn.

All eyes are on Ebola now.
Thankfully, all known cases of Ebola are being closely tracked and monitored. Any contact or at risk individual is being closely watched as well. Now that we're aware of the disease, the threat is isolated, and proper precautions are in place to ensure that the disease will not spread beyond Texas. Only 3 people are infected so far, and hopefully no one else will contract the disease.

If you want to avoid Ebola, avoid contact with infected bodily fluids. Infected persons should be easy to spot since they are probably bedridden and bleeding out of every orifice. If you're sick, avoid contacting other people so you don't spread the disease. It's that simple.

I'm not worried about Ebola, and you shouldn't worry either.

Have a question? Leave me a comment below or ask me on twitter. Feel free to share this if you feel others will benefit from some Ebola truth.