Monday, January 28, 2013

Hottest vs Warmest 100 and the effects of social media

The Australia Day ritual of listening to Triple J's Hottest 100 countdown was this year enhanced by seeing how accurate the Warmest 100 team had been.   For the whole background on how a few geeks used the votes of a small sample published on social media to compile a prediction list the article in The Vine is a good read.

The answer was,  very accurate, but not surprisingly so.  The folks involved published a cool table of their accuracy, which a journo kindly graphed. The simple highlights are that 92 of the songs in the Warmest 100 were in the Hottest 100, they got 8 songs in their correct positions inclusding the top 3 and they correctly predicted the top 10 but not in order.

That this isn't surprising is due to statistical analysis by an Australian economist currently working in the USA. 

The correlation is not surprising, though economist turned politician Andrew Leigh did suggest on Twitter  a possible additional variable "#Warmest100=sharers. #Hottest100=everyone. So extroverts prefer Frank Ocean, The xx, Passion Pit, Grimes..."

There is, however, also another angle to this and that is not so much whether the published choices are an accurate sample, but whether they actually affected the result.  A paper published in 2006 titled Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market studied the effect of social connection on music.  Quoting from the abstract;

Hit songs, books, and movies are many times more successful than average, suggesting that “the best” alternatives are qualitatively different from “the rest”; yet experts routinely fail to predict which products will succeed. We investigated this paradox experimentally, by creating an artificial “music market” in which 14,341 participants downloaded previously unknown songs either with or without knowledge of previous participants' choices. Increasing the strength of social influence increased both inequality and unpredictability of success. Success was also only partly determined by quality: The best songs rarely did poorly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other result was possible.

In brief, the research suggests that the practice of voters sharing their votes online will shape the final result. If that is the case then it is no wonder that the Warmest list was such a good predictor.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The distinction

I am currently writing a longer form piece about what it means to be on the left.  One of the definitions that goes around to distinguish the "left" and the "right" is the former's belief in "equality."  More nuanced versions point out that the right also promotes some kind of equality.

Perhaps a better version of the distinction was provided yestyerday by Amanda Vanstone writing in the SMH.  In an homage to the value of instead of whineing one should simply take the initiative to enjoy oneself, she tells us that we certainly shouldn't look to politicians.

As a piece of definition of the views of the right she says "After all if the government keeps wanting to make it harder for those with more, what's the point in busting your gut to get kicked in the guts?"  This from a person who was of the so-called Liberal left.  This is the real right in operation, portraying Government merely as a means to take ones possessions.  It is Bad King John writ large.

The separate political error is in the next sentence where she writes " If the government can't control its spending and has failed miserably to save for a rainy day you might well feel a bit dorkish playing Mr or Mrs Scrooge with your own finances." The only trouble being that the Government IS controlling its spending, Government expenditure as a proportion of GDP continues to be lower under this Government than under Howard.

Finally, in Vanstone's call to not look to politicians for inspiration she writes;

Do not look to the Parliament as an example of what is good in Australia. Australia is much better than a quick look at our question time would have you believe. Australia is richer, stronger, better, more productive, more innovative - I could go on - than our Parliament. We are made of better stuff.
This is disappointing from a former Senator, who should no better than the average citizen, that question time is not indicative of the contribution of politicians.  That comes far more in their formulation of policy, the decisions they collectively make about legislation and government finance.  And while it is convenient to believe in the image of monoloithic parties that are mere voting blocks at the behest of their leaders or factional chiefs, the reality is vastly different.  Look no further than the discussions on irregular boat arrivals and how the coalition responded, or the way the ALP addressed the UN Plastine vote.

Our politicians are much better than journalists, former politicians, and even current politicians frequently argue.