Over the past years, Yahoo! Research has become a powerhouse of research in algorithmic economics (as well as other areas). Sadly, their major basic research push that started with Noble intentions to win the Nobel prize (presumably in economics) has been facing serious difficulties for a while. First there were rumors about cancelled job interviews, then Prabhakar Raghavan jumped ship, and by the beginning of April it was clear that a tsunami was sweeping through Yahoo! Research. Personally I’ve had many great interactions with esteemed Yahoo colleagues, especially in the past year, and in fact I am the proud recipient of one of their space pod chairs! (Its delivery was an interesting experience, which started with a phone call from the delivery company about a mysterious 300 pound “machine”, and continued with the arrival of a huge, impregnable crate that resisted efforts to open it for two days.) So the Yahoo situation was on my mind.
This week I was delighted to read the news that 15 of the Yahoo! NYC researchers have been assimilated into the benign MSR collective, and in fact will form the basis of the new MSR NYC lab. The first stories only mentioned by name three extremely prominent researchers: Dave Pennock, Duncan Watts, and John Langford. Today Dave disclosed a few more names: David Rothschild, Sharad Goel, Dan Goldstein, Jake Hofman, and Sid Suri. Wow, what a catch for Microsoft! Interestingly, much like the recently founded MSR Herzeliya lab (which is led by Moshe Tennenholtz), the MSR NYC lab will report to Jennifer Chayes at MSR NE, with Dave Pennock in a leadership role.
I have it on good authority that, going forward, Yahoo labs may actually increase their investment in sponsored research, which I think makes sense. So the main uncertainty at this point seems to be the fate of the Santa Clara lab. At least two of the prominent SC-based members of the Microeconomics and Social Systems group, Mohammad Mahdian and Preston McAfee (the group’s leader) have recently become nooglers.
In any case, it seems that the dust is settling, and overall the glass is half full: this mayhem has led to the creation of an exciting new lab and new opportunities for algorithmic economics. Dave, Duncan, Sid, et al. — congratulations and good luck!