Hyper-Media Search and Consumption
In the past five years, the number of Americans using the Internet as their main source of news has doubled to more than 40%, while those choosing newspapers has dropped to just over 30%. Although this trend signals a shift in the consumption of information in favor of hyper-media, wherein excerpting and linking is commonplace, research regarding how consumers acquire news in online environments has not proceeded apace. This dissertation presents a model of forward-looking consumers who gain knowledge and utility through the search and consumption of hyper-media, and explore its implications for welfare and site policy.
The model is estimated using comScore browsing data for five celebrity news and gossip sites, supplemented with link data scraped from site archives. The model is estimated by coupling Imai, Jain, and Ching's (2009; Econometrica 77(6):1865-1899) method with the Riemann manifold sampling algorithm of Girolami and Calderhead (2011; JRSS-B 73(2):123-214). The pairing of these recent advances enables researchers to estimate dynamic models with many more variables and states than previously considered.
Results indicate consumers are heterogeneous in their preferences for certain types of celebrity sites (e.g., females prefer sites that emphasize gossip over pictorials of female models and entertainers). Results also indicate that links to other sites are informative about the target site's potential quality; after observing one link to another site, consumers' uncertainty about the linked site's quality is about 20% lower.
Counterfactual analyses show that network throttling, in which access to all sites is slowed down uniformly in an effort to reduce congestion, has an unequal effect on site traffic. For example, sites frequented by consumers with higher than average browsing costs lose a greater share of their traffic. They also show how a change in fair use law, in which excerpts and links become less informative of the linked sites' quality, causes consumers with more extreme tastes to curtail their searches, consequently decreasing traffic at sites with mainstream content and many inbound links. A third counterfactual experiment uses the model to explore the implications of pay walls for site traffic.
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