Project idea: Nostradamus AKA prophetr – a social forecasting network for experts

From time to time some programming ideas come to my mind which I can not forget. I had often started a new project but due to my limited amount of free time it is hard to finish all of them. In the next blog posts I will describe my ideas with some technical and environmental background. If you are interested in getting more information, buying the idea/source code or just motivate me, just drop me a line at me[at]schakko[dot]de. I would really appreciate your feedback.

Making prophecies and verifying their occurence

It must been around five or six years ago when I first thought about the idea of making prophecies in technical topics. I remember that I had a talk during the lunch with one of my co-workers about some IT trending topic which I had been propagated a for a few months. During this talk I said that a platform would be awesome where users can enter their prophecies and verify prophecies of other users if they had occured and how exactly the prophecy matches with the occurence.

Due to the number of prophecies made and the number of verified prophecies you could calculate the relevancy of a prophet (= a person who makes prophecies) which indicates the expert level of the prophet. A higher number of verified prophets means that you have more expertise in a given topic than other users.

Possible customers for social forecasting networks

The first intention was to have a social network for selfish reasons. Through some mechanisms, like not being allowed to change a prophecy after someone has voted for it, you would have been pinned to one statement which could be falsified or verified. If you were right, you could always use the classical phrase: “I said so.”.

In larger companies you could identify hidden champions or motivate people to be more interested in their expert knowledge. One day I had a talk with my bank account manager who were highly interested in the project because of obvious reasons. The software would allow them to evaluate the efficency of share brokers without using real money.

Another possible target group were whistleblowers or persons who wanted to make sure that a prophecy would be published on a specific date. For this I implemented some functionality to encrypt the content of the prophecy with symmetric keys. The keys could be stored on remote servers so that only the prophet was in control of when the prophecy can be published. After Snowedens revelations I instantly thought about this feature again.

 

I have to admit that the project has one big flaw: making self-fulfilling prophecies like: “I prophecy that the share price of company VWXYZ will drop in the next few days.” If you are already an expert in your area, there is a high chance that other follower will react to this prophecy and sell their shares. The share price will drop and your prophecy could be verified… You get the idea.

Technical background

At first I started with Spring MVC but after some weeks I switched to PHP/Zend Framework 1.x/MySQL. Most of the statistical computation (relevancy of prophets, influence of prophets and so on) and the social network aspect (who follows whom, which prophecies I can see) is done through database views which made the implementation inside the services really easy.
The encryption part called remote-credential-loader (RCL) is written in Node.js. RCL polls every few minutes the deposited decryption key URLs for encrypted prophecies. To a given timestamp (e.g. five minutes before releasing the prophecy) the URL must provide the AES decryption key, otherwise the prophecy is evaluated as false.

For the frontend I used Twitter Bootstrap 2.

The whole background documentation (processes, data model, computation) I had written in LaTeX (German language only).

Current status of the project

After thinking about the idea for years I finished the beta within the scope of my Bachelor project in the year 2012. The professor who belongs to the statistical faculty and who had observed the project was really impressed about it. Since December 2012 I am the owner of prophetr.de and prophetr.com which were intended to host the social network, but it is a classical 80%/20% project status. The application misses LDAP authorization and synchronization for usage in enterprise environments, the user interface and design is pragmatical and not very user friendly and so on.

A few months after I finished the Bachelor project I read an article in the c’t. If remember correctly they were from Austria and got a lot of money for building a social forecasting network like mine. This was more or less the reason why I had abandoned the project for the last two years.

Drop me a line at me[at]schakko[dot]de if you are interested in more information.