Hubdub: the virtual bookie for time-wasting news junkies

Betting on the outcome of current affairs is the latest internet addiction, finds Matthew Bell

Will President Obama be assassinated in the first year of his tenure? It's a depressing thought but, as reported in last week's Independent on Sunday, it's a possibility too real to ignore. And over the past month $81,783 (£55,300) has been wagered on it. Not in the real world, or even in real money, but on a new prediction market website called Hubdub, which allows punters to bet on the outcomes of everyday news stories.

Launched earlier this year in the US, a UK version hit the web 10 days ago. And for the desk-bound worker, it already promises to rival Facebook as a time-wasting opportunity. Anyone can create a question, and anyone can place a bet on its likely outcome – how much Somalian pirates will get for the Sirius Star say, or how long George Osborne's career has left to run.

"I got a call from a woman the other day begging me to close her account," says Nigel Eccles, the brains behind the site. "She complained she had become too addicted and it was stopping her from doing any work."

It's not hard to see Hubdub's addictive potential. Markets that run on breaking stories change considerably in the course of a day, encouraging users to return to the site. Stories with a predefined timeframe, such as the result of tomorrow's pre-Budget report – punters are predicting tax cuts of £5bn to £10bn – are perhaps a more manageable form of excitement. Longer-term predictions like "Who will be the next Dr Who?" may persuade users to come back as relevant information is made public.

For employees of The Independent there is a legitimate excuse to add Hubdub to their favourites, as the paper is its media partner. Browsers of independent.co.uk can, after reading a story, place a bet on its outcome by clicking through to Hubdub. At the time of writing, the burning question was, "Will John Sergeant be reinstated on Strictly Come Dancing due to popular demand?" His chances were, sadly, a mere 8 per cent, down 12 points on the previous day.

It may be compulsive, even revealing, but is gambling to be encouraged? Hubdub's defence is that no real money changes hands: users are given 1,000 imaginary dollars when they sign up, which can be placed in wagers ranging from $25 to $100. Every day a user logs on to the site, $20 is put in their account, so even the unluckiest gambler can win back their losses over time. In the scheme of online gambling, Hubdub is a benign form of entertainment.

But questions of taste are being asked about some of Hubdub's markets. Predictions such as the likelihood of an Obama assassination, known as death-pools, have sparked outrage. One question recently posted asks, "Will Jade Goody still be alive by 1 August 2009?", following reports that the former Big Brother contestant has cancer. "You cannot have markets on people's lives," says one user, "This is disgusting."

"Hubdub is a community, and it is the community that sets the boundaries as to what is acceptable," says Eccles. "However, this is one issue we still don't have a consensus on. Our policy is that death markets are acceptable as long as they are in the context of a news story. Some users find them objectionable, while others feel that as a news site it is important that Hubdub covers all elements of news, not just the nice parts."

Operated by five people from an office in Edinburgh, Hubdub was dreamt up last year by Eccles, a maths graduate who had previously set up Flutter.com, a website enabling bets between anyone on any subject. Although a flawed concept, Flutter was later bought by Betfair, which has grown to become the biggest online betting exchange with two million users and a multi-million-pound weekly turnover.

The difference with Hubdub is that no real money is involved, as the site is free to join and use. It does not host any advertising, and although now in partnership with The Independent, Reuters and The Huffington Post, these are partners not sponsors. As yet, Hubdub has no obvious revenue streams.

This will come, according to Eccles, who says the data amassed by the site will have a value of its own that could one day be translated into cash. Hubdub uses sophisticated technology that he foresees will be licensed to major news sites. "We believe we have an exceptionally exciting technology which lets people engage much more closely with big news stories. Our first objective is to get that technology much more widely distributed."

One group of media people who may not share Eccles's enthusiasm are newspaper columnists and TV pundits. Eccles plans to collate and publish data on all predictions and their eventual outcomes. "Early analysis of Hubdub's forecasts has shown that, unlike pundits, they are highly accurate."

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web Analytics Manager / Optimisation Manager

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Analytics Manager / Optimisation Manager ...

Graduate Sales Executive

Up to £24k + Commission: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Premium Ad Verification C...

Agency Sales /Senior Sales Manager

£40,000 - £65,000 + commission : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Great opportunity...

Marketing Manager

£26 - 32k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Manager is needed to join a unique and ex...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style