Friday, June 10, 2005

Google and the Prisoner's Dilemma, Redux

A while ago, I talked about how easy it was to walk in relatively late into Google's midnight show of Star Wars at AMC Theatres and still find good seats, although the show was sold out. I speculated that the explanation must lie in Googlers being smart enough to cooperate in a game of Prisoner's Dilemma. (See here for the details.) I have since received a number of questions requesting further investigation, as well as some interesting comments proposing alternative explanations.

Anand suggested that the explanation might lie in central coordination, with all the Googlers being told to get there at a certain time, or perhaps through a carpool. A very plausible explanation (I am ashamed I did not suggest it myself) but I have now verified that this wasn't what happened.

Sriram suggested it might have something to do with parking difficulty, but that only makes my case stronger. First of all, everyone should have equal difficulty parking, whether they are from Google or not. Second, when I got to the theater at 11:15, the lot was brimming with more cars than I'd ever seen there before, suggesting that all the non-Google screens were already filling up. Moreover, we have evidence that many people turned up as early as 9pm and filled up these screens as you can see from this photo-journal of Merrie Ringel Morris.

Finally, I contacted a Google insider -- whom I shall only refer to as Sore Throat -- and asked her for her theories. Here is [a slightly edited version of] what she had to say:
First, this is a group of people who knew each other, so it is possible that some of them came early and reserved seats for others. Second, the composition of Googlers who came to the midnight show is different from that of non-Googlers. Googlers had easy access to the tickets and hence needed less activation energy than a non-Googler who had to reserve tickets to come to the movie. So Googlers who came for the midnight show were probably, on average, less interested in the movie than a non-Googler who came for the midnight show, hence coming late.
Both explanations sound interesting and plausible, although I like mine better. :-)

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