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Using Internet Data for Economic Research

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  • Benjamin Edelman
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    Abstract

    The data used by economists can be broadly divided into two categories. First, structured datasets arise when a government agency, trade association, or company can justify the expense of assembling records. The Internet has transformed how economists interact with these datasets by lowering the cost of storing, updating, distributing, finding, and retrieving this information. Second, some economic researchers affirmatively collect data of interest. For researcher-collected data, the Internet opens exceptional possibilities both by increasing the amount of information available for researchers to gather and by lowering researchers' costs of collecting information. In this paper, I explore the Internet's new datasets, present methods for harnessing their wealth, and survey a sampling of the research questions these data help to answer. The first section of this paper discusses "scraping" the Internet for data—that is, collecting data on prices, quantities, and key characteristics that are already available on websites but not yet organized in a form useful for economic research. A second part of the paper considers online experiments, including experiments that the economic researcher observes but does not control (for example, when Amazon or eBay alters site design or bidding rules); and experiments in which a researcher participates in design, including those conducted in partnership with a company or website, and online versions of laboratory experiments. Finally, I discuss certain limits to this type of data collection, including both "terms of use" restrictions on websites and concerns about privacy and confidentiality.

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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.26.2.189
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 26 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
    Pages: 189-206

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:26:y:2012:i:2:p:189-206

    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.26.2.189
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    1. Horton, John Joseph & Rand, David Gertler & Zeckhauser, Richard Jay, 2010. "The Online Laboratory: Conducting Experiments in a Real Labor Market," Scholarly Articles 4448876, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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    10. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan & Patrick Scholten, 2004. "Price Dispersion In The Small And In The Large: Evidence From An Internet Price Comparison Site," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 463-496, December.
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    Cited by:
    1. Zhang, Yongjie & Feng, Lina & Jin, Xi & Shen, Dehua & Xiong, Xiong & Zhang, Wei, 2014. "Internet information arrival and volatility of SME PRICE INDEX," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 399(C), pages 70-74.
    2. Arne Feddersen & Brad Humphreys & Brian Soebbing, 2013. "Sentiment Bias in National Basketball Association Betting," Working Papers 13-03, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
    3. Francesco D'Amuri & Juri Marcucci, 2012. "The predictive power of Google searches in forecasting unemployment," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 891, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.

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