CAS CS 591 - Fall 2015 - Electronic Commerce

Course Overview: Surprisingly, until very recently, the world of electronic commerce has received relatively little attention in academia. It is true that economists and management scientists have studied the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful Internet firms. Moreover, game theorists and computer scientists have helped pioneer foundations such as the theory of second-price auctions. Finally, innovation in distributed systems that power access to massive amounts of data have facilitated the realization of the massive two-sided markets driven by search engine advertising and ad networks. However, only recently have experimentalists deeply tapped into the opportunity that unlike traditional markets, many aspects of the electronic commerce marketplace are not only publicly observable, but are readily available for online measurement and data collection. Therefore, research on questions such as the prevalence of "sniping" on eBay, the effectiveness of Groupon personalizing its daily deals for subscribers, or the study of how landlords learn how to price inventory on AirBnB, can all be evaluated via large-scale measurements, enabling studies that were not previously possible.

In this class, we will consider electronic commerce from a broad and inter-disciplinary perspective, reading seminal papers on theoretical foundations and empirical findings written by the Computer Science, Information Systems, Marketing, and Economics communities; we plan to attract course participants and guest lecturers from these various disciplines. Our goal, however, will then be to focus on quantitative evaluation of the e-commerce marketplace, and to enable students to conduct research in this area. A core competency that we will develop is fluency with big data: experimental methods; best practices and techniques for data collection, data mining, and statistical analysis; effective presentation of findings; as well as the ethics of data collection. The capstone project of the course will be a research project, conducted by individuals or in pairs, in which students conduct a quantitative measurement-driven analysis of a computational aspect of an e-commerce firm or of consumer behavior with respect to an e-commerce marketplace.

Prerequisites: This course is designed for students who are potentially interested in pursuing graduate research related to Electronic Commerce. Please note that this course is not about entrepreneurship. While students' backgrounds will vary, it is expected that students have completed an undergraduate major in an area related to the course topics (such as CS, Economics, or Marketing). Seniors who have completed all required coursework except for electives should seek the instructor's permission to enroll.

Instructor:  Prof. John W. Byers
Email: byers @ cs . bu . edu [preferred]
Phone: 617-353-8925 [do not leave voice-mail; use e-mail instead]
Office Hours (Fall 2015): Open hours: Tues 2-4
By prior appointment only: Wed 10-11.

Instructor Bio:

Class meeting time: Tues/Thurs 12:30-2:00, MCS 180 (Hariri Institute Conference Room).

*We will use our registrar-assigned classroom, MCS B23, only on day one and when the Hariri room is in use.*

Course Requirements and Grading: There will be three components of the grade in the class: For class, we will be drawing on some material from the Easley-Kleinberg textbook (see below), but more often, we will be reading and discussing research papers. I will also be giving some lectures on technical background material for methods used in the papers. In the paper-reading portion of the course, students will be required to read and digest approximately two papers per week, prior to lecture. Students will submit short summaries and provide answers to basic questions about the papers prior to discussion. For each major topic of the course, a group of students chosen in advance will serve as specialists on the topic -- they will be experts on the papers we are discussing, and will be expected to help facilitate the discussion, brainstorm about research directions, and help with the presentation of the material (or with supplemental material).

We will have periodic short assignments, two in-class quizzes comprising short answer problems, and perhaps a few longer homework problems.

The capstone project for the course will be a semester-long research project, culminating in a writeup in the style of a conference paper, and a presentation to the class, which most likely will take the form of a poster at a class-wide poster session. The topic of the research project will be for students to conduct a quantitative measurement-driven analysis of a computational aspect of an e-commerce firm or of consumer behavior with respect to an e-commerce marketplace. Students may work alone or in teams of two, with the expected output of the teams to be commensurately larger. Suggested project topics and project deadlines will be announced after the first few weeks of the course. I will expect students in this class to take the project very seriously and there will be regular interaction with the instructor outside of class to work on the projects --- ideally, several of the projects in the class will eventually lead to publishable papers. A strong venue for Computer Science students to target could be the experimental track of the ACM Symposium on Economics and Computation. For economics students, the goal of the project would be to write a paper that could develop into a chapter of the dissertation and potentially a job market paper. Ideally, the ideas in the paper could be developed into work publishable at a top field or general interest journal.
Course Topics
Course Topics, Handouts, and Readings