Moving from Data-Constrained to Data-Enabled Research: Experiences and Challenges in Collecting, Validating, and Analyzing Large-Scale E-Commerce Data
Statistical Sciences, Forthcoming
36 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2006
Widespread e-commerce activity on the Internet has led to new opportunities to collect vast amounts of micro-level market and non-market data. In this paper we share our experiences in collecting, validating, storing and analyzing large Internet based data sets in the area of online auctions, music file sharing and online retailer pricing. We demonstrate how such data can advance knowledge by facilitating sharper and more extensive tests of existing theories and by offering observational underpinnings for the development of new theories. Just as experimental economics pushed the frontiers of economic thought by enabling the testing of numerous theories of economic behavior in the environment of a controlled laboratory, we believe that observing, often over extended periods of time, real-world agents participating in market and non-market activity on the Internet can lead us to develop and test a variety of new theories. Internet data gathering is not controlled experimentation. We cannot randomly assign participants to treatments or determine event orderings. Internet data gathering does offer potentially large data sets with repeated observation of individual choices and action. In addition, the automated data collection holds promise for greatly reduced cost per observation. Our methods rely on technological advances in automated data collection agents. Significant challenges remain in developing appropriate sampling techniques, integrating data from heterogeneous sources in a variety of formats, constructing generalizable processes, and understanding legal constraints. Despite these challenges, the early evidence from those who have harvested and analyzed large amounts of e-commerce data points towards a significant leap in our ability to understand the functioning of electronic commerce.
Keywords: Large scale Internet data, web crawling agents, online auctions, music file sharing
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