Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is the Vancouver contest political/municipal enough?

These two comments on my August 25 post are worth quoting and following up in a new thread:

Chris said...
The results are turning more into a popularity contest then a reasonable measure of political blogs in Vancouver. Half of the blogs on the list have little or no political content, especially Vancouver municipal political content.

As much as I like Miss 604's blog, I can't remember the last time she wrote about anything regarding politics in Vancouver. The closest thing I can think of was a discussion of the smoking ban.

Same goes for Vancity Buzz.

The Vancouver Observer, Price Tags, and Paul Hilsdon have minimal municipal political content

Bill Tieleman and Walter Schultz focus provincial politics.

A general Vancouver blog like Beyond Robson or Metroblogging Vancouver has more political content then most of the blogs on the list.

August 25, 2008 2:41 PM

Raul (hummingbird604) said...
I am the newest addition to the roster, for which I'm grateful. As for political content, I would ask one question and point out to one thing.

1) Is the contest purely for political blogs? That wasn't my understanding.

2) I am in no way, shape or form justifying my blog or my inclusion in the ballot, but I do write about Vancouver's public policy issues, particularly environmental policy.

I think that having a variety of blogs allows for the experiment to take place. As a social scientist myself, I can see how the experiment is developing and I'm curious to see the outcome.

August 26, 2008 6:59 PM

Thanks Chris and Raul for taking up this important question. I agree with most of the points you made.

Two weeks ago I invited Beyond Robson to enter the contest, and we’re just sorting out who on their end should approve the entry and receive any award payments. Once that’s done I plan to invite Vancouver Metblogs, which seems to have a similar structure of platform provider aggregating independent bloggers.

The contest is designed to empower Vancouver voters to fund whatever they think serves their interests. My expectation is that they will want to support bloggers that give insight on municipal politics and policies, so I call it the “Vancouver Election Blog Contest”. But to keep this process democratic, the contest administrator should not impose that view by restricting entry to political blogs. This is partly to prevent political control by the adminstrator, and partly to keep the door open to other possible community benefits – e.g. see Will VFM Provide Consumer Info?

Here’s a relevant section of the contest terms:
We refer to contestants as “media” or “bloggers” and call this a blog contest based on what we think contestants will do, but we do not actually require contestants to act like media or be bloggers. This contest is designed to benefit the voting community, and many types of benefit are possible. We think contestants will win votes by providing such benefits as blogs, websites, newspapers and broadcasts giving insight on Vancouver civic issues, especially those decided by vote.

Likewise the question of regional focus (municipal, greater metropolitan, provincial) is left to the voters. Vancouver issues overlap so much with regional and provincial (transportation, education, environment, crime, you name it) that I wouldn’t know how to draw a dividing line. Right after the municipal election in November, I plan to morph it into a B.C. political blog contest and promote it to bloggers and voters province-wide, as a run-up to the B.C. election next May.

When assessing contest voter tendencies, it’s helpful to look not only at the current week’s ranking on the ballot, but also at the cumulative awards won so far. Current rankings fluctuate depending on who posted about the contest recently. The leader in cumulative awards is The Tyee, with serious in-depth coverage of politics and policy. And speaking of policy, some contestants may not discuss Vancouver’s election specifically, but give voters valuable insight into municipal issues, e.g. Price Tags on urban planning and Paul Hillsdon on transportation.

Nonetheless, Chris’s point that the voting results are like a popularity contest is still something to worry about. Marketing is not my forte. My main promotion strategy for attracting people to vote is to depend on the contestants to publicize it in their blogs. Most of them have mentioned it once or twice, but that’s about it. So we may not have expanded the voter pool much beyond the bloggers themselves and their friends. As a result, many of the votes may reflect loyalty to friends rather than the broader public interest. To some extent such biases cancel each other out, but I think some flavour of a popularity contest remains.

Part of the problem is the limited award pool. $300 a week is not much to support independent political media for a city the size of Vancouver. Bloggers may not find it worthwhile to promote their entries for a few extra dollars. So this may change in future if we can attract more funding.

But meanwhile there’s a lot we can do. A few days ago I finally learned how to mask the ballot’s super-long URL, so now I can encourage bloggers to link to the new short URL: A ballot link that stays near the top of a blog, like those at Vancouver Manifesto and UBC Insider, would bring multiple benefits: more voting support for that contestant, knowledge of other blogs for their readers, and a broader voter base for the contest. So it’s not just a selfish plug. Better still, bloggers can recommend other contestants they consider particularly worthy, as Miss604 did in this post.

BTW I’m writing a paper on the overall rationale and strategy for voter funded media – download the latest draft “How to Create Public Interest Media in Your Democratic Community” at

I welcome more comments on all this!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vancouver contest news

I’ve made a short URL for the ballot:

Welcome a new contestant this week:

Chris raised some important issues about this contest in his comment on my previous post. Feel free to add your comments. I’ll respond in a future post.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Welcome back Frances Bula

Today I did the weekly tally of votes in the Vancouver Election Blog Contest, and updated the ranking & awards shown on the ballot. I think the new voting system we’ve been using for two weeks now is working pretty well so far. What do you think? See also the tally spreadsheet and cumulative awards.

With this update I’ve added Frances Bula’s new independent blog to the ballot.

Monday, August 11, 2008

First results from absolute dollar voting; new contestant

I just finished tallying the votes from the Vancouver contest’s first week of “absolute dollar” voting, where you type in an award for each contestant. See results on the current ballot, and details of the tallying on this spreadsheet. There were some dramatic moves: Newcomer Vancity Buzz shot up to #1, and Miss 604 jumped from #13 to #3 – congrats to both!

I think it’s too early to draw conclusions on whether absolute dollar voting is a good system. Let’s see how it goes for the next week or two, then discuss.

One issue worth noting is how we should treat blank entries. Many voters fill in positive numbers for one or a few contestants, and leave the others blank. Some voters fill in all blanks with positive numbers or zeroes. A few voters fill in a zero or two, a positive number or two, and leave the rest blank. Overall statistics are 60% blanks, 12% zeroes and 28% positive numbers.

So far I have been ignoring blanks, not counting them at all. One can argue for counting blanks as votes for $0. Or a compromise could be to count a blank as half a vote (or some other fraction) for $0.

Reasons for ignoring blanks:
1. It empowers voters by giving them more options – blank = “don’t know”, $0 = “don’t like”.
2. If blanks are counted as $0, that could make it very hard for neglected competitors to work their way up the rankings.
3. Competitors that move up too high into awards will then appear on the radar of more voters, who will have the opportunity of voting them back down the next week if they want to. One week of “too high” is not a big deal.

BTW we welcome another new contestant this week – “Left eye on Vancouver” – see ballot.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Absolute dollar voting; new contestant

I’ve just completed the weekly vote count and update for the Vancouver Election Blog Contest ballot. Welcome new contestant Vancity Buzz!

In search of the ideal voting system design, we’re trying a new variation of dollar voting. Starting now, you vote by typing in what dollar prize you would like to award each contestant – see ballot, where I’ve given a general description and instructions. After the first week of voting, I’ll post a spreadsheet showing in detail how the tallying works.

One key reason for voting in absolute dollar amounts rather than up/down incremental adjustments is to slow down what I call “vote decay”. Most people don’t vote every week. So we can get a more information-rich consensus by using a vote for more than one week, if it hasn’t been updated by that voter. But if voting is by incremental adjustment and the ranking has changed, then it becomes less clear what last week’s vote means in the context of this week’s new ranking. That’s less of a problem with absolute-dollar voting, so old votes can meaningfully be used for more weeks.

Another nice feature of absolute dollar voting is that I can use the same ballot format for in-the-money contestants as out-of-the-money contestants. Let’s see how it goes…

Cumulative award totals

Ballot with contestant links