Friday, December 12, 2008

UBC VFM status & future

I sent this email to the AMS execs this morning:

from Mark Latham

to Michael Duncan ,
Stefanie Ratjen ,
Tristan Markle ,
Alex Lougheed ,
Chris Diplock

cc Bruce Krayenhoff, Matt Naylor, Kyle Warwick

date Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 10:42 AM

subject VFM status & future

TO: AMS Executive Committee

I'm grateful to the AMS for working with me on voter funded media test implementations for the past two years. I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't, and am now designing the next-generation VFM platform. It'll probably take a few months before we roll out the first release of that – I'll let you know.

Meanwhile I plan to continue sponsoring and administering VFM at UBC, at least until the next AMS election, which I guess will be about the end of January 2009. During January, I'll sponsor $200 per week of awards. You (or the AMS Elections Committee) may want to consider funding an increase in those awards, to give UBC media more incentive.

You may also want to consider funding VFM beyond January 2009. If you fund it, I'm willing to administer it. But even without awards, I might continue with a monthly vote on UBC media ranking.

UBC VFM info page:

VoterMedia Democracy Blog:

-- Mark

Mark Latham - Founder,
"Media for voters, funded by voters."
Email: mark[at]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

UBC awards update

Today I tallied the votes for the UBC media/blog awards -- results & other info at

Heart of Eden won $10 today for a total of $190 since 2008-09-25, but has now dropped out of the UBC VoterMedia Awards.

Future UBC vote tally dates will be January 8, 15, 22 and 29.

Monday, December 1, 2008

First B.C. Politics Blog Ranking

Today I tallied the votes in the new British Columbia Politics Blog Ranking (successor to the Vancouver Election Blog Awards as described here).

Congratulations to The Vancouver Observer for its dramatic rise into first place! And please welcome seven blogs added to the ballot.

Next monthly tally and reranking will be on January 1. Please vote about once a month; we'll count your latest vote.

While we are developing the next generation web platform for this ranking, we may hold off on adding more blogs to the list. Possible funding of future awards is also on hold pending release of the new platform and development of funding sources and infrastructure. Developments will be announced on this blog...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

UBC awards update

Today I tallied the votes for the UBC media/blog awards -- results & other info at

We welcome (back) new entrant the Knoll!

Future UBC vote tally dates will be December 11, January 8, 15, 22 and 29.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Vancouver awards morphing to BC ranking

With the municipal elections behind us, the Vancouver Election Blog Awards will now become the British Columbia Politics Blog Ranking. Provincial election and referendum are are only 6 months away!

Check out the total awards won by each Vancouver blog from May through November 2008.

We are building a new scalable website platform for media/blog voting. To conserve time and funds for that, the B.C. blog ranking will not have awards for now, and will be updated monthly instead of weekly. The UBC blog awards will continue, at least through their election in late January 2009.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

UBC Blog Awards Update

Today I tallied the votes for the UBC media/blog competition -- awards & other info at

The next three voting periods will be longer than one week each, because of Christmas, my travel plans, and trying to get more votes per period. This will also save time & money for weekly awards in the January 2009 run-up to the AMS election, and for building the next generation voter media web platform (now in design phase).

So future UBC vote tally dates will be November 27, December 11, January 8, 15, 22 and 29.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Langara Blog Contest on hold

Thank you to everyone involved with the Langara Blog Contest! Unfortunately it hasn't caught on with Langara students. But the good news is that I've learned enough from the successes and failures of contests at Langara, UBC, SFU, city of Vancouver and elsewhere, that I'm planning a new web platform for future competitions.

So I'm putting the Langara Blog Contest on hold until sometime in 2009, when I plan to have a new system rolling out. Meanwhile you can still see the Vancouver (soon to be B.C.) contest at, and the UBC contest at I'll keep the Langara blog links at

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vancouver awards update

I did the weekly tally update today -- see new ballot & blog links.

Vancouver election is this Saturday Nov 15! Be sure to vote.

After next Monday Nov 17, the Vancouver Election Blog Awards will change dramatically. I'll blog about it then.

So I'll accumulate this week's awards through next week, and pay them all out after that.

BTW I couldn't revive my PC that crashed a week ago, so last Tuesday I bought a Mac. Now learning how to set up and use this new hardware & software system...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stopped publishing UBC voters' names

I'm no longer publishing the names of voters in the UBC media/blog awards competition. I was publishing them for reasons described in this earlier post. But the data organization required is cumbersome, many voters opt out (i.e. publishing is not popular), and I'm not sure how much benefit there is.

I welcome comments on either side of this question, and any other ideas for increasing voter turnout!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

UBC update

I've just tallied the votes for the UBC Weekly VoterMedia Awards. Voters awarded $100 to newcomer FairVote UBC, $40 to UBC Insiders, $30 to Devil's Advocate, $20 to Global Ink, and $10 to Heart of Eden.

We welcome new blog entrant UBC Years!

I've updated the ballot -- see voting instructions at But I haven't updated the website with this week's results yet -- coming soon...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vancouver update

I did the weekly tally update today -- see new ballot & blog links.

With less than 2 weeks to the municipal elections, I'm preparing for the next stage of evolution of voter funded media system designs. The two-part ballot we used in the past week (funding vote for top ten, yes/no vote for the rest) was interesting, but difficult to tally and re-rank consistently.

So this week I'd like to try a very simple design: approval voting, much like at

My main computer crashed yesterday and is still down, so it's hard for me to update the votermedia website with today's tally results. I'll try to get to it soon.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vancouver awards updated

In today’s vote count, Vancity Buzz took over first place, and newcomer re:place Magazine is in second. We’re also trying out a new ballot format – see ballot and blog links.

See also:
- cumulative awards & other info
- vote tally details & history

Sunday, October 26, 2008

UBC update

As mentioned earlier, today only I’m deviating from the usual Thursday schedule for updating the UBC VoterMedia Awards. We’ll be back on Thursdays starting November 6.

Voters kept UBC Insiders in first place, and swapped the places of Devil’s Advocate and Heart of Eden.

Welcome new blog entrant FairVote UBC!

Info and links at

Friday, October 17, 2008

Media Democracy Day at Vancouver Public Library Sat Oct 25

Full programme & more info at

Media Democracy Day 2008 festivities will take place at the Vancouver Public Library, 350 West Georgia Street(map), on Saturday October 25th 2008 from 12 noon to 6 pm. Admission is free and open to everyone.

MDD will include a series of exciting panels, workshops and speakers.

Confirmed speakers include:

*Rex Weyler - Co-founder of Green Peace
*Deborah Campbell - Award Winning Independent Journalist
*David Beers - Publisher – The Tyee
*Gurpreet Singh - Broadcaster on Radio India, freelance columnist for Surrey Now, freelance reporter for South Asian Post
*Michael Tippett - Co-founder of
*Robert Hackett - professor at SFU and author of “Remaking Media”
*Andrea Hayley - president of the Epoch Times Vancouver
*Robert Scales – CEO of RainCity Studios
*Matt Thompson - Campaign Strategist for FreePress, Co-Founder of
*Kate Milberry - Media and Technology Commentator (See her blog)

Our media democracy fair will provide the public the chance to meet local media makers civil society workers, including representatives from:

Campaign for Democratic Media
Community Media Education Society (CMES)
SFU CMNSU (Communication Student Union)

and many more...

[Too bad I'll be out of town that day! :-( ]

Again, full programme & more info at

VoterMedia Finance Blog

I've started a new blog on the financial crisis, at So I'm moving that topic (tagged "Financial System" here) over to there instead. Please take a look and make some comments!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

UBC update; skipping a week

Awards from today’s tally were similar to the previous week – see, which also links to the blogs and to voting detail spreadsheets, how-to-vote info etc.

Since I’ll be in New York all next week (Oct 18-25), I’m going to stretch the next two UBC blog award periods to a week and a half each. Next update will be Sunday Oct 26; after that we’ll be back on Thursdays from Nov 6.

Vancouver awards updated today

As mentioned earlier, today only I’m deviating from the usual Monday weekly schedule for the Vancouver Election Blog Awards. We’ll be back on Mondays starting October 27.

Voters again rewarded five media/blog entrants, this time putting Vancity Buzz back in the money – see ballot for awards & links.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

UBC awards weekly update

I just tallied the votes for October 2 to 9. Students voted these blog awards:

UBC Insiders: $80

Heart of Eden: $60

The Devil’s Advocate: $40

Global Ink: $20

Thank you voters and media! More info and voting details here.

The ballot is now open for voting Oct 9 – Oct 16. If you’ve registered, click here to vote. If not, click here for how to register.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Vancouver awards update; skipping a week

I just tallied the votes for this week’s Vancouver Election Blog Awards. Lowering the award cap from $150 to $100 has shared the wealth a little further – 5 winners this week instead of 4. Beyond Robson remains in the lead; Only Magazine won its first award. See ballot and blog links.

With Thanksgiving next Monday, and me on a trip to New York October 18 to 25, I’m going to stretch out the next two award voting periods to a week and a half each. So next two tally updates will be Thursday October 16 and Monday October 27. Then we’ll be back on a weekly Monday schedule.

I’ll be meeting some of my old Wall Street buddies. We should have plenty to talk about…

Thursday, October 2, 2008

UBC VoterMedia Awards weekly update

Today I counted the votes for the past week. Congrats to UBC Insiders for staying in 1st place, and welcome new entrant Heart of Eden – see blog links and info at

So we now have 4 media/blog entrants and a weekly award pool of $200.

As discussed in earlier posts, I’ve started listing the names of those who voted.

Thanks to all participants!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Links to analyses of financial crisis

Here are some links to expert analyses that I have found helpful for learning about the crisis – history, causes, and proposed policy responses. (Please let me know about other sources.)

1. Paul Krugman’s blog at the New York Times

2. RGE Monitor group blog by various economists

3. 2008-09-23 Princeton economists panel
(Hyun Shin, Markus Brennermeier, Harrison Hong, Paul Krugman, Alan Blinder)
To me, the highlight was Paul Krugman’s explanation (45 minutes into this video) of why the idea that “we need to take the troubled assets off the financial system’s balance sheets” misses the point.

4. 2008-09-25 Harvard law econ finance panel
(Jay Light, Robert Kaplan, Elizabeth Warren, Greg Mankiw, Ken Rogoff, Robert C. Merton)

5. 2008-09-24 ProxyDemocracy Blog post on corporate governance reforms
(Andy Eggers)

Financial crisis discussion kickoff

The current U.S. financial crisis was caused in large part by poor corporate governance and poor democratic governance, so voter funded media reforms can help prevent such disasters in the future. Meanwhile we have to solve the immediate problem of how to achieve short-term and medium-term stability of the financial system. (“We” includes the U.S. government, U.S. voters and people who think about political/economic systems.)

Although my work for the past 12 years has focused on governance (corporate and democratic), before that my specialty was investments: financial economics, derivatives arbitrage, risk measurement and control etc. I worked for Salomon Brothers (now part of Citigroup) and Merrill Lynch (now part of Bank of America) in New York and Tokyo. Before that I was assistant professor of finance at U C Berkeley – see

Thanks to my interest in Japan, I have already spent some time thinking and writing about how a leveraged financial system can overcome the dislocations caused by falling real estate prices. Japan went through that in the 1990s, and took more than 10 years to recover. In 1998 I started writing a paper entitled “How To Transform a Failed Japanese Bank”. I only wrote 4 pages and never published it, but in 2000 I published a summary in section 6 of “Corporate Governance in Japan: A Future Scenario”. Both papers are available at

Rereading those ideas, I think they can be usefully adapted as proposals for solving the current U.S. crisis. So in the coming days and weeks, I plan to post my updated proposals in this blog. I’ll flag them with the tag “Financial System”. I hope you readers of this blog will contribute your ideas, links, questions etc.

Here’s a question for you: Do you know of anyone discussing the idea of eliminating the tax penalty on equity to encourage larger equity cushions in financial firms? This issue has been around for decades, but is anyone raising it as a cause and partial solution for the current crisis?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Vancouver weekly blog awards; award ceiling

I just tallied the votes for this week’s Vancouver Election Blog Awards. The four winners are the same as last week, but awards have shifted a little – see ballot. Thank you all participants!

Going forward, you’ll see on the ballot that I decided to revert the award ceiling from $150 back down to the $100 that we were using through July 14. I think of the ceiling as training wheels which I’d like to remove eventually. In this early experimental stage of the blog awards, funding is limited to what I can afford. So publicity is limited, partly because the award pool doesn’t motivate enough publicity from the bloggers. As a result, our voter sample is probably not broad enough to be representative of all Vancouverites. But when I pitch for foundation funding, I’d like to show preliminary results that are more reflective of how the awards would work out with a broader voter sample.

To see what effect the ceiling had, I tried raising it for a while. Ideally, I’d like to give voters as much power as possible, including the freedom to allocate awards any way they want. But for now I think this bicycle is tilting too far, so I’ve lowered the training wheels back down.

By the way, we also plan to attract and retain more voters by building a new ballot with features like the latest headline from each media/blog.

I welcome your comments and suggestions on all this!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

UBC VoterMedia Awards first weekly results

I've just counted the votes in the first weekly round of the UBC VoterMedia Awards (also called voter funded media, VFM, blog contest). Congratulations to our first two entrants and prize winners UBC Insiders and Global Ink.

The second week's ballot is now open for voting, with our third entrant The Devil's Advocate added (welcome!). Weekly award pool has increased to $150. See info page for voting instructions.

As I proposed in this post, I will soon publish names of people who vote here, to thank them for this community service. You can opt out of this on the ballot. I've revised the awards contest terms accordingly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Should I publish voters’ names?

Should I publish on the names of people who vote in the UBC and Langara blog contests? (This wouldn’t apply to the Vancouver blog awards, where I don’t know the voters’ names.)

My goal is to increase voter turnout, which is terribly low so far. Would it work?

Voting is a community service. It benefits the democratic community of all students at UBC or Langara. The benefit of your vote to yourself is minuscule, perhaps not enough to make it worth spending the time. That’s why many people don’t bother voting.

But the benefit of your vote to the community is significant. Maybe letting everyone know who voted would enhance their reputations enough to motivate more people to vote. People may encourage their friends to vote.

The confidentiality of voting is an important democratic principle, but what needs to be confidential is which way you voted, not the fact that you voted. So I’m proposing to list who voted, not the voting decisions.

I wouldn’t start doing this without warning. I’d let everyone know about it and give them the option not to be listed. I’d show who registered to vote, then who voted each week, perhaps with cumulative statistics e.g. how many weeks they voted in so far.

What do you think of this idea?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Vancouver Election Blog Awards weekly update

I've just tallied the votes for this past week. The awards came out the same as last week. So congratulations to prize winners Beyond Robson, The Tyee, David Eby and Frances Bula -- see ballot at Thank you to all participants -- media/blogs and voters.

As usual, details of votes and award allocation method are in spreadsheets linked here.

I get the sense that I've been over-emphasizing the competitive aspect of voter funded media, so I changed the name from "Vancouver Election Blog Contest" to "Vancouver Election Blog Awards", took out the ranking numbers, and changed some of the wording on the ballot and the terms.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

UBC weekly blog contest voting started

I've just opened the ballot for voting in the UBC Blog Contest -- see

We only have 2 competitors so far -- Global Ink and UBC Insiders. We expect more soon. There's no entry fee.

Votes are counted and awards made every Thursday (usually).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Vancouver contest weekly update

Voters lifted new entrant Beyond Robson straight to the #1 spot and $150, the highest weekly prize ever awarded since this contest began in May. Congratulations to them!

See latest rankings and awards on the current ballot at

Some of our discussion from this earlier post is relevant to the current dramatic re-ranking.

Details of votes and award allocation method are on spreadsheets linked here.

Please welcome the next new contestant, added this week: Only Magazine.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

UBC & Langara Blog Contests Launched

I’ve just launched blog contests at University of British Columbia and at Langara College in cooperation with their student unions. See info pages –

Like the Vancouver Election Blog Contest, we will pay weekly cash prizes to the top-ranked contestants. There’s no entry fee, and anyone can enter a blog or other media. Our goals are to improve voter information and engagement in their democratic communities, but contestants and voters are free to emphasize whatever content they choose.

The contests differ on their voter registration method and ballot access:
- Vancouver ballot is an open web page with no registration required;
- UBC registration and ballot are on the university’s Vista Blackboard course management system;
- Langara students register to vote by emailing me their mylangara email address; then each week I email them a link to the ballot.

The ballot formats and vote tallying methods will be similar to what we’re using in the Vancouver contest.

We’re already open for blogger entries and voter registration. Voting will start soon.

Please spread the word!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Vancouver contest updates

The Tyee has regained first place in the Vancouver Election Blog Contest, as of today’s weekly vote tally. See current ranking on the ballot.

Welcome new contestant Beyond Robson!

The vote tallying method is explained here, with link to spreadsheet showing vote percentiles.

I’ve updated the contest terms to include a listing of the representative of each contestant.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Political debates at VPL

There are some interesting political debates coming up, to be held at the Vancouver Public Library main branch, on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm:

Arguing the AFFIRMATIVE:
MAUREEN BADER, BC Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Arguing the NEGATIVE:
JIM SINCLAIR, President, BC Federation of Labour
[The carbon tax debate previously scheduled for this date "will re-surface in the near future".]

October 1: First Mayoral Debate -- Peter Ladner vs Gregor Robertson
Journalist panel includes Stephen Quinn, CBC Radio One, Alex G Tsakumis, 24 Hours/CTV Vancouver, and Frances Bula, Vancouver Magazine/Langara College

October 29: Second Mayoral Debate -- Peter Ladner vs Gregor Robertson
Journalist panel includes Stephen Quinn, CBC Radio One, Alex G Tsakumis, 24 Hours/CTV Vancouver, and Frances Bula, Vancouver Magazine/Langara College

November 12: "RESOLVED: SkyTrain is a costly mess; LRT is the only way to go." Speakers TBA

Full updated details here.

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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Vancouver contest terms and name update

I’ve amended the Vancouver contest terms by adding:

[… we may…:]
(o) change the contest's name;
(p) change the contest's focus from Vancouver to British Columbia and back again.

With the election coming soon, I think it’s better to shorten the name from “Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest” to “Vancouver Election Blog Contest” (see ballot).
When the Vancouver election is over, I’d like to morph the contest to focus on BC issues and the election (& referendum) coming up in May 2009. There’s a lot of overlap in coverage of Vancouver and BC anyway.

I welcome your comments!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why Shift to Dollar Voting?

Starting this Monday July 14 (vive le quatorze!), I plan to implement a new feature in the Vancouver Blogging Contest ballot: “dollar voting”. It will let voters determine not only the ranking of contestants, but also how the $300 weekly award pool gets divided. Until now, we fixed the division into five prizes: $100, $80, $60, $40, $20. From next week, voters will be able to adjust those amounts, but the total will still be $300. They can also increase or decrease the number of prizes.

The ballot format will still be simple – three choices on each contestant (up, same, down). But for those contestants receiving awards, votes will adjust their prizes directly. (Whereas until now, votes adjusted the ranking, which then determined prizes.) The vote tallying method will balance total up and down moves, and round them off in $10 increments.

Why should we try this? To follow the fundamental principle of empowering voters rather than administrators.

We could worry that a surge of voters supporting one blog might give it the whole $300. This would be “a bad thing”; most people agree that voters benefit from media diversity. But if most people agree, then wouldn’t most voters vote to share the funds more widely?

With greater power comes greater responsibility, and I am hoping that voters will rise to the challenge. Let’s imagine the scenario where one blog has substantially more supporters than other blogs. This could be due partly to higher quality, partly to a longer history, partly to promoting the blog, and partly to telling readers about the contest and asking for their vote. Whatever the reasons, suppose voters start awarding one blog more than $200 of the $300 weekly pool. Would that blog continue to tell its readers to vote it even more of the funding?

This is where it gets interesting. That blog would seem to face a conflict of interest. It may seem to be in its interest to keep asking for more. But if that would significantly harm media diversity, then it’s not in the voters’ interest to give them more. So if the blog asks for more, voters may at some point recognize the conflict of interest and start losing confidence and trust in that blog. Short-term greed could harm its reputation and its long-term income. This factor should promote self-restraint, thus mitigating the conflict of interest.

Thus one thing I hope to encourage by dollar voting is discussion of the relative merits of each blog. A more responsible popular blog could start comparing the quality of other blogs, and guiding its readers in voting on them. Popular blog A could recommend that its readers vote for serious insightful blog B, even if those voters don’t actually read blog B. Blog A may be drawing insight from blog B and presenting it in a more accessible way.

We have actually tested another version of dollar voting, at UBC in January 2008, where we called it “Interpolated Consensus”. Voters gave cash awards to nine of the eleven contestants – a reasonably broad distribution.

So let’s take off the training wheels and see how this bike can cruise!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vancouver Observer Takes #1 Spot From The Tyee

Voters have lifted newcomer The Vancouver Observer into first place in the Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest, moving The Tyee to second. The Tyee continues to lead in cumulative awards, at $720 since we began in May.

Now that Frances Bula has left The Vancouver Sun, we’ve delisted City States and look forward to listing her new independent blog once it’s launched.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

UBC VFM To Resume In September

The UBC Voter-Funded Media Committee and I are planning for the next contest period to start in September. By then we expect one-click login to be implemented, which should increase voter turnout. The return of students to campus will no doubt revive interest in AMS (student society) affairs and media coverage.

See you in the fall!

Meanwhile, check out the Vancouver Blogging Contest and join its Facebook group

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

UBC VFM May-June Results

I’ve tallied the votes in the University of British Columbia student union media contest:
1st prize $200 – Global Ink
2nd prize $160 – UBC Insider
3rd prize $120 – The Knoll magazine
4th prize $80 – University Affairs
5th prize $40 – Devil’s Advocate

You can see detailed votes and tallies linked from

Next we can discuss the results and future contest plans.

New Vancouver Bloggers Featured

Voters raised The Vancouver Observer from #11 to #3 in its first week in the Vancouver Blogging Contest! Is that where it belongs?

Newcomer David Talks/The Berner Monologues has just been added to the ballot at #11. Should it move up or down? Check it out and cast your vote

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vancouver Contest Updates

I’ve just tallied votes and updated rankings in the Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest. Bill Tieleman moved up from #8 to #6, changing places with In Support of Public Education. And we welcome new contestant The Vancouver Observer!

Cumulative award totals

Past vote tallies

Ballot with contestant links

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vancouver Contest: The race is on!

Two races, actually.

In the blogging contest, The Tyee and David Eby are neck-&-neck, with Tyee ahead in this week’s ranking and David ahead in total awards to date. We’ve awarded $1500 so far in our first 5 weeks.

It’s a great time to blog about Vancouver civic issues, now that NPA has nominated Peter Ladner and Vision has chosen Gregor Robertson. We voters need some insight to help us choose between these superficially similar candidates for mayor.

As a member of Fair Voting BC, I helped conduct the Vision Vancouver 3-way nomination vote last Sunday – hectic but fun!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Vancouver Contest: 2nd weekly update

I’ve just tallied the votes for the Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest. The top 3 are unchanged: David Eby at #1 for his second $100 weekly award, The Tyee #2 ($80), City States #3 (declining awards). Stephen Rees has moved up from #6 to #4, Price Tags from #9 to #7, and new entry Report Card starts at #11.

So now are all the blogs where they belong? Check them out and vote once a week!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How to Change Corporations by Informed Voting

I originally designed voter-funded media to reform corporations, and spent years promoting the idea to institutional investors. I have not yet gained enough of their support to implement it, in the face of the expected opposition from boards of directors. Instead, I’ve been sponsoring implementations in democracies.

But now a new organization called ProxyDemocracy is pushing ahead with some of my ideas for informed voting of corporate shares. (I’m on their board.) Focused mainly on American corporations and mutual funds, it lets you compare funds’ voting records, and choose funds with voting styles you agree with. For example, you can look at voting on environmental issues, executive compensation, corporate governance etc. You can also get email notifications if you want to copy their decisions when you vote shares you own as an individual.

This increased transparency and competition should help improve the quality of voting decisions by funds and individuals, thus making corporate management more accountable to shareowners and the public.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Vancouver Contest Terms

I've posted terms for the Vancouver Voters' Guide Blogging Contest at

Basically the terms say that since this is an experiment, anything could happen, I can run the contest any way I choose, and the only recourse for those who don't like it is to not participate.

I welcome your comments, advice, questions etc!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Vancouver Blogs: Weekly Award Cycle

We’re now far enough into the Vancouver Voters’ Guide Blogging Contest that the rankings are more stable and I have a sense of how it’s all working. Next I’d like to propose a weekly cycle of ranking updates and cash awards.

Especially for those with busy weekday schedules, more blogging, reading and voting may happen on the weekend. So I’m thinking I’ll tally the votes and update the ranking once a week, on Monday afternoon or evening. (Tuesday after a Monday holiday.)

I’m willing to sponsor weekly awards totalling $300: 1st place $100, 2nd $80, 3rd $60, 4th $40, 5th $20. If a winner declines an award, their prize and those below shift to the next position down. I’ll accumulate each winner’s total and mail cheques on request.

Shall we start this Tuesday May 20? I welcome your comments, questions and advice!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Vancouver Blog Ranking: Update #2

Today I tallied the past two days' votes and reranked the Vancouver blog contestants. Vote percentages and explanation are here.

Please vote (again) to revise the new ballot ranking!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vancouver Blog Ranking Updated

Today I did the first major ranking update of the Vancouver Voters' Guide Blogging Contest, based on votes received so far. Thanks for voting -- please vote again to improve the new ranking!

I posted details of the votes and the ranking update method here.

One voter helpfully suggested adding Vancouver Blog Miss 604, so I've done that.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Vancouver media/blogs: Which should we vote for?

I recently created this ballot for ranking media/blogs that cover Vancouver municipal issues. As the info page explains, it's a test implementation of voter-funded media. If the voting system seems to be working, I plan to fund periodic awards for the top-ranked media/blogs.

The ballot question is:
“Which media/blogs should Vancouver voters reward with a few hundred dollars?”

I’d like to kick off a discussion of what qualities we should look for in media/blogs for this purpose. I’ll abbreviate “media/blogs” to just “blogs” since that seems to be the dominant medium in the low-stakes contests I’ve funded so far, e.g. at UBC. But in principle, voters might support contestants providing any type of broad public benefit.

Knowing little of Vancouver issues and blogs, I browsed around and found these nine to start off the ranking, in a mostly random order:

#1: Bill Tieleman
#2: Public Eye Online
#3: City States
#4: Walter Schultz
#5: Vancouver Kid
#6: The Vancouver Manifesto
#7: Stephen Rees
#8: Paul Hillsdon
#9: David Eby

I'll re-order the list in response to votes, add suggested blogs to the list, and when we get more than 10 I plan to create an optionally-viewable page 2 for ranks 11 through 20.

I have much more confidence in Vancouver voters’ “wisdom of crowds” than in my one brain. But I’d like to offer some ideas for what blog features and qualities we could encourage, to help us vote in the November election and hold our leaders accountable.

1. Focus on Vancouver municipal issues & electoral candidates:
While all the above nine cover some Vancouver issues, several of them range well beyond this city to other municipalities, provincial politics etc. It would be great if people create blogs that summarize and link to insightful Vancouver coverage from many sources.

2. Responsiveness to this contest:
If we vote a few hundred dollars to a blog, will that make any difference? Some of the above nine are professionals who might not respond to this low-profile low-stakes contest. Nothing wrong with being a professional – indeed, a long-run goal of voter-media is to support professional journalists. But for now, if they give us the same information benefit regardless of our votes here, maybe we should fund “smaller” independents instead. If any professionals do create new content for this contest though, then let’s reward them.

3. Variety:
There is no single ideal blog for a democratic community. That’s why I typically sponsor awards to the top five to eight places in voter-media contests. Some writers have expertise in a few specific areas. Some may provide depth of analysis, some are better at summarizing, and others are just brilliant at making fun of people. ;-) And since no one can be perfectly objective, we need to hear different political perspectives. The value of each contestant should be judged in the context of what the other media are already providing. What does each one add to the total?

Your thoughts on all this?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Langara College Voter-Funded Media Competition Launches May 12

The Langara Students’ Union and I are launching a VFM contest this Monday May 12. It will run until October, with media award voting on a paper ballot accompanying the October 2008 LSU election. So media are encouraged to cover two LSU elections (May & October) and issues important to Langara College students throughout the contest period.

Awards total $1500 -- 1st prize $500, 2nd $400, 3rd $300, 4th $200, 5th $100.

Entry form and more info at

Friday, May 9, 2008

UBC Contest Open For New Entries

Four of the five contestants from UBC’s March-April voter-media contest have entered again for May-June: UBC Insider, Devil’s Advocate, University Affairs and The Knoll magazine.

We’re offering five prizes totalling $600: 1st prize $200, 2nd $160, 3rd $120, 4th $80, 5th $40. Voting period is May 16 – June 30. Info and entry form at

There are many ways to participate: read the blogs, comment on them, vote on how they should be ranked, enter your own blog or media group, offer to join one of the contestants or write a guest post.

So what’s happening with the AMS this summer? I’ll be watching on my blog reader…

Thursday, May 1, 2008

UBC VFM Results; new Vancouver city VFM

I’ve just finished tallying the votes in the UBC AMS media contest:
1st prize $250 – UBC Insider
2nd prize $200 – Devil’s Advocate
3rd prize $150 – University Affairs
4th prize $100 – The Knoll magazine
5th prize $50 – uVOTE

You can see detailed votes and tallies linked from

In the next week or so we can discuss the results and possible contest design changes. Then we’ll start accepting entries for the May 16 – June 30 contest period.

This month I’m launching a voter-media competition for Vancouver, testing a much more open system: No entry fee, and anyone can vote, starting now, as often as they want – Alex, this one’s for you! ;-) But don’t worry, I’m developing a statistical filtering algorithm. We’ll see how it goes…

Please suggest Vancouver media/blogs for me to add to the ballot. How about entering?! Info and ballot link at

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Media Reform Conference June 6-8

I'm looking forward to another great media reform conference -- info at

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

UBC Year-Round VFM Details

I just posted this at I'll update it there occasionally in future, and show how many voters have registered.

The main info page for this contest is here. Below are more details than you really need!

Voting Instructions that appear on the ballot when you start to vote:

Please rank the media from best (most deserving of award funds) to worst (least deserving) in the "Matching pairs" section below.
- When you're done, click "Save Answer" and then "Finish", unless you want to return and finish later (any time through April 30).
- If you rank a contestant more than once, only its highest rank will be counted. E.g. if you rank a contestant both 1st and 4th, it will only be counted as ranked 1st.
- Any contestants you don't rank will be counted as ranking below those you do rank. E.g. if you only rank one contestant, it will be counted as ranking above all the others, even if you put it in the lowest rank.

Contestant names come up in a random order for each voter.

Plans for Future Contest Periods:

We can adjust all contest terms from one period to the next, so I welcome your ideas by email or comments on the VoterMedia blog. My current plans are:

Two contest periods in summer --
May 1 - June 30: $600: 1st prize $200, 2nd $160, 3rd $120, 4th $80, 5th $40.
July 1 - August 31: $600: 1st prize $200, 2nd $160, 3rd $120, 4th $80, 5th $40.
$10 entry fee per period.

Then monthly during school year; higher award pool in January election month.

Suggestions for Contestants:

Since this year-round VFM contest is not linked to an AMS election, you media contestants are the main source of publicity to potential voters. Especially because voter registration is somewhat cumbersome (emailing me their login IDs), the contest may be won by those who can persuade more of their readers to vote. By about August 2008, UBC expects to have a one-step self-enrollment process by clicking on a web link and logging in. That will make it easier and increase turnout.

With preference voting and Condorcet tallying, it really matters who a voter ranks second, third etc. There are no electoral condidates to endorse, but you can review all media contestants and say how you would rank them. Some of your readers may not read all the other contestants, but could still support those that give greater public benefit.

In a way, the media contestants are a team, and different media will fulfill different roles and specializations. The value of each contestant should be judged in the context of what the other media are already providing. What does each one add to the total?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

VFM Networking Party

I hosted a party March 16 for people interested in voter-funded media at UBC, SFU, BCIT, Langara College etc. We can learn from implementing VFM in different ways at different student unions. Media groups can build their brand reputations by linking across schools in various ways: publicizing and reviewing each other’s quality, guest posting, and eventually creating groups that serve multiple democratic communities. The next step for VFM may be municipal politics, which broader coalitions of students and graduates could tackle.

Meanwhile we can eat, drink, chat and relax! Thanks to SFU Instant Blog’s Patrick Lee for this video and review of the party...

… and to UBC Insiders’ Gerald Deo for these photos. Here’s a list of media folks who attended, with links to their blogs & photos:

School/Org Blog/Site Name/PhotoLink Notes
BCIT BCIT PCMA Joseph Landicho In centre of photo
BCIT BCIT PCMA Kris De Luna On left of photo
Diana Filer TV & radio programming; now retired
Langara LSU Arran Walshe
Langara LSU Chris Vincent
Langara VG's LSU Blog Vincent Gornall
SFU Instant Blog Patrick Lee In centre of photo
SFU SFU Politics Xenia Menzies
SFU SFU VFM Brad Coleman
UBC AMS Matthew Naylor 2 years on VFM planning committee
UBC AMS Stephanie Ryan 2 years on VFM planning committee
UBC Devil's Advocate Aaron Palm
UBC Devil's Advocate Eoin O'Dwyer "Eoin" pronounced like "Owen"
UBC Devil's Advocate Stephen McCarthy
UBC Election Erection Kate Webb Now a reporter at The Province
UBC UBC Insiders Gerald Deo Took photos of this event
UBC UBC Insiders Maayan Kreitzman

Let me know if you’d like to attend the next VFM event, whenever that may be…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Year-Round Voter-Funded Media Competition Launched at UBC

Today we are launching the first round of this ongoing VFM competition. Entry period is from now through March 25. Voting will run from March 26 through April 30. Award pool $750: 1st prize $250, 2nd $200, 3rd $150, 4th $100, 5th $50. Entry fee $10. Full details and entry form at

UBC students can now register to vote by emailing their campus-wide login ID to me (email address: ubc[at] Once registered, log in at and click on the VoterMedia Workshop.

We hope this competition will support a diversity of insight on issues important to UBC students, including AMS voting decisions like the upcoming referenda (March 25-31).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Year-Round VFM Approved for UBC

UBC's AMS Council has voted (March 12) to OK the launch of a year-round VFM system, subject to oversight of the Turbo-Democracy Committee. I will fund and administer it. We'll finalize plans and get it going ASAP.

Current proposed design is posted at I’ll post developments there and in this blog, probably by Friday. I’m now proposing an entry fee of $10.

UBC students can register to vote (on a test ballot only for now), by emailing their campus-wide login ID to me (email: ubc[at]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Alexis de Tocqueville biography by Hugh Brogan

French lawyer/politician Alexis de Tocqueville spent 10 months in the USA in 1831-1832 (when he was 26), then wrote his famous book Democracy in America. I’m now enjoying a new (2006) biography of Tocqueville by Hugh Brogan; from page 271:

“… what he had seen in America had convinced him that the prudent and gradual introduction of democratic institutions, which in this way would become part of the habits and opinions of the people … was a real possibility, and he was to spend the rest of his life advocating it; but he could not pretend that he was offering anything more than a hope. And although he would exert his considerable powers of persuasion to convert his readers to that hope, he was well aware that ultimate success or failure lay predominantly with forces outside his control. The convictions, passions and interests that divided France were not going to yield immediately to sweet reason. Hence Tocqueville’s doctrine was for long more honoured in Britain and the United States, where it was not particularly needed (being a rationalization of their actual history and politics) than in France, where it was.
But he never quite gave up hope.”

Then Brogan quotes from Democracy in America:

“It is difficult to induce the people to take part in government; it is still more difficult to supply them with the experience and the beliefs which they lack, but need in order to govern well. The democratic will is volatile; its agents, vulgar; its laws, imperfect. I admit all this.”

I’m looking forward to reading about Tocqueville’s career as a democratic reformer, after publication of his book.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

UBC Year-Round VFM Design

I put this on the web at today:

I invite you to help me (Mark Latham) plan a new VFM system for UBC, that would let students vote funds to media year-round, not just at election time. My proposal is outlined below. You can give me advice on how to improve it by commenting in the VoterMedia blog.

I'll wait for an OK from AMS Council before launching this. I hope UBC students will grow to like this system enough to fund it themselves, and take over running it. To get it started, I'm offering to fund and administer it.

How to Vote: Email your UBC campus-wide login ID to me (email address: ubc[at], wait a few days for processing, then log in at Click on the VoterMedia workshop. Please join now to help test the system!

Contest Schedule: My basic idea is to have monthly awards, but it may be too much to ask students to vote every month. And in summer maybe contest periods should be longer. If we can start by then, I suggest the first contest period to start March 24 (coinciding with referenda voting) and end April 30.

Voters: UBC students. (How about including faculty and staff?)

(Media) Contestants: Open to any person, group or organization, whether affiliated with UBC or not.

Awards: May vary from one contest period to the next. My proposal for March 24 - April 30: $750 total -- 1st prize $250, 2nd $200, 3rd $150, 4th $100, 5th $50.

Contest Entry Fee: I guess an ideal number of contestants is about 10, so would adjust the entry fee to aim for that. For the proposed March 24 - April 30 contest, let me know (email: ubc[at] if you would enter if the entry fee is waived for entrants with websites showing the contest name and a prominent link to this page. If I get no more than 10 replies, then they will get that waiver. If more than 10, maybe we'll make it $10 or $20 (and ask who still wants to enter).

Voting Format: Many designs are possible, but based on extensive discussions with UBC VFM committees, I suggest trying preferential voting. You rank all the media, specifying your 1st choice contestant, 2nd choice contestant etc.

Vote Aggregation Method: Condorcet methods have desirable properties. Free software OpenSTV can handle it. I suggest using its Condorcet option to find the first place winner, then have it ignore that contestant and find the second place winner, etc.

Judging Criteria: Voters are free to evaluate media contestants any way they choose. Media contestants are free to appeal to voters (or not) any way they choose (of course subject to the laws of the land, like libel, copyright, pornography etc.).

I would appreciate advice on any aspects of this project, especially these topics:

1. Voter registration:
It’s cumbersome to ask every voter to email me their campus-wide login ID, but it seems the only practical way for now. It’s technically feasible to add every UBC student to the VoterMedia workshop. But that’s a bit like spamming everyone, and would require some high-level UBC admin permission. If the UBC tech people would implement a self-enrollment option on Vista, that would solve the problem. But my tech admin contact says that probably won’t happen until 2009.

2. Contest schedule:
Is monthly too frequent?

3. Voting structure:
What do you think of preferential voting and a Condorcet method for aggregating?
Also, the ballot for ranking media doesn’t force you to rank them all, so:
- If you rank a contestant more than once, only its highest rank will be counted.
- Any contestants you don't rank will be counted as ranking below those you do rank. (So for example, if you only rank one contestant, it will be counted as ranking above all the others, even if you put it in the lowest rank.)
Any thoughts on this?

4. Awards:
Is five too few?

5. Entry fee:
Is this the best way to manage the number of entrants?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

SFU VFM March awards increased to $600

Since March will be such an important month for media at SFU (election & referendum happening), I’ve decided to increase the VFM contest award pool to $600:

1st prize $200
2nd $160
3rd $120
4th $80
5th $40

If you’d like to enter, the form is linked at Looking forward to some insightful content!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

UBC VFM Results

University of British Columbia’s student union (Alma Mater Society) recently completed their second voter-funded media contest. (Their first was a year ago.) Below are my impressions of the results.

Overall, VFM succeeded in making a positive contribution to this democratic community. In spite of the late launch of the election and the VFM contest, the media contestants dove into energetic analysis and discussion of the electoral candidates. This gave voters more intelligent insight to base their choices on than they could have achieved without this media help. Like last year, it also educated candidates about their prospective positions and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, voter turnout was lower than last year, in both the election and VFM voting. This was primarily because of the late launch, short campaign and voting periods, relative lack of advance publicity, and voting on VFM after the election instead of concurrently.

The long-term success of VFM requires a feedback loop from media to voters and back to media. We need voters to reward media that provide public benefit. While voter assessments of media quality will never be perfect, we can see a substantial maturing of those assessments from January 2007 to January 2008.

The prime example is UBC Insiders’ move from 7th place to 2nd place. Their excellent content was not widely appreciated in January 2007 because they were new and VFM itself was new. But their continued blogging throughout 2007 spread their reputation, and a growing number of students participated in their comment discussions. By January 2008, students seeking insight into electoral candidates knew where to look, and were not disappointed.

Voters have also learned to catch on faster to media quality: new-in-2008 contestant The Devil’s Advocate sprinted from nowhere to a 3rd place finish. However, their modest but astute conjecture is that much of the voters’ improved insight came from self-selection: only students who follow the media bothered to return to the polls for VFM voting after the election was over.

It’s hard to tell how changing the VFM voting system may have shaped the award allocations. In 2007 we used approval voting (very simple – like or dislike each contestant) but this year we used “Interpolated Consensus” (more complex – vote each contestant $0 or $500 or $1000 or $1500 or $2000). Besides the apparently more accurate assessments of media quality, this year’s awards show several positive features. The top three places are closely spaced, supporting healthy competition among media groups rather than dominance by one or two. They represent substantially differing political perspectives, showing that a “tyranny of the majority” is not marginalizing all minority views. Nonetheless, not everyone wins a prize. A few entrants that voters deemed not worthwhile did not recover their $150 entry fees. This discipline helps discourage a proliferation of weak entrants from cluttering VFM ballots.

Some contestants won awards without providing much election coverage. I think The 432 and The Underground have been blamed for this. But to me, VFM has never been only about election coverage. For both of the last 2 years at UBC, I wanted to launch VFM in September, to encourage media to cover AMS issues for 4 months (including the election) and then get rewarded for it in a January vote. This incentive can work even before VFM is formally launched. So those media groups that have been connecting with students all year have earned the extra support they get.

The mix of serious and humorous content is of course up to media and voters to choose as they wish.

I’m also glad to see that VFM has induced a healthy debate on the quality of competing media [read comments]. I hope the debate and the incentive to build reputation among voters will encourage a steady improvement in both new and established media.

I hope to offer a year-round monthly VFM contest at UBC soon, like the one we just started at SFU. This could solve several problems, including late start, high entry fee, over-emphasis on elections and slow media-voter feedback learning.

VFM is gaining momentum at other student unions, including BCIT, Langara College and McGill University. I’m giving a public talk at Kwantlen University College (Richmond) on February 20.

Various websites’ discussions of VFM are linked from

Thursday, January 24, 2008

UBC VFM voting has started!

Voting finally started today for UBC's voter-funded media contest, on the WebVote system -- see instructions here. You can vote from now through January 31.

Another late development: Ian Pattillo's entry Plain Title: Awesome Content!! which had only been available in print, is now on the web also.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Suggestions for Media Contestants

Here are some ideas for voter-funded media contestants, especially during an election (like the one happening now at UBC):

1. Busy voters need summaries.
The depth & breadth of your content are great for building credibility among opinion leaders who take the time to read it and spread your reputation. But for those voters who are only willing to spend a few minutes, summaries can help them make intelligent choices. You could make a table of endorsements from your group, and perhaps from other groups too. Clear link(s) from the top of your website to summaries would give more voters the benefit of all your work and insights.

2. Review the media.
You are giving voters guidance to help them vote; they are voting on media as well as on electoral candidates. Remind them that their options are to vote for $0 (“no money”), $500, $1000, $1500 or $2000 for each contestant, with no restriction on their total of voted amounts. (Non-votes are counted as voting for $0.) How will you vote? You could endorse other media, and change this advice through time as more content appears.

3. Use both print and web.
Using more types of media will reach more voters. Even if you only print a 1-page flyer, it can show your endorsements, and reference your website for more depth.

These are my guesses as to what will work, but I’m not the contest judge – voters are. You media may know better than I how to help voters and win votes.

See also:
How VFM contestants can help voters and win votes
Multifactor analysis of UBC VFM votes

Friday, January 18, 2008

UBC final list of 11 contestants now posted

The entry deadline for the voter-funded media contest at University of British Columbia was 4 pm today. We got 11 contestants -- see list and links at

Monday, January 7, 2008

UBC VFM Contest Open for Entries!

Entry forms for this year's University of British Columbia voter-funded media contest have just been made available at the AMS office, Student Union Building 2nd floor. I'll also post the entry form at when I receive it, probably tomorrow.

More info in these previous blog posts:
Contest Contrast: UBC vs SFU
Media consolidation – yes!
How VFM contestants can help voters and win votes

Contest administrator is Paul Gibson-Tigh (paulgt at

In case the AMS Elections VFM web page is slow to get updated, I may post some unofficial info at as to who I've heard is planning to enter. Please send me info on this.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Will VFM Provide Consumer Info?

Will voter-funded media give their communities info on shopping as well as on voting?

To allow complete freedom of the press, VFM contests have so far imposed almost no requirements on media content, format or eligibility. Contest administration is basically an arm of the government, so if the media are to check and balance government power, administrators should have no subjective discretionary authority over contestants. Instead, it is the voters who must sort out the socially beneficial media and reward them. The idea is to empower voters, not to empower government-appointed administrators.

The media are free to try attracting voter support by any means they want, and voters are free to support contestants for whatever reasons they choose. As the SFU contest entry form states:
“We use the term "media" based on what we think contestants will do, but we do not actually require contestants to act like media. This contest is designed to benefit the voting community, and many types of benefit are possible. We think contestants will win high ratings by providing such benefits as websites giving insight on important SFU issues, especially issues to be decided by vote.”

The UBC media contestants in January 2008 will no doubt focus on the student union election that takes place at the end of January, as they did last year, for reasons outlined in this blog two days ago. But at SFU the annual election is not until March, and the media awards are spread throughout the year. What will the contestants offer voters?

Each voter can rate each contestant on a scale of 0 to 10. Awards are given out based on the median of each contestant’s votes: highest median gets first prize, etc. Nonvotes are counted as half a vote for a 0 rating – see rules. To win at this game, contestants must appeal to a wide range of voters.

There are several organizations already providing benefits to the SFU community, including the Simon Fraser Student Society, The Peak (newspaper), and the university itself. Their different mandates cover a wide range of possible benefits. They are well established, and command substantially more resources than the voter-funded media award pool. What could VFM contestants add to this scene? They must look for benefits that are not already being provided.

I designed VFM to encourage media to help voters choose better leaders and to monitor leaders once elected. Existing campus media already do this, but VFM should add a diversity of independent views, with a new competitive incentive linked directly to voters. Different incentives are likely to result in different behaviour, and thus may add some new perspectives on issues important to the SFU community. New media can at least play a gadfly role, critiquing and advising the government.

But contestants may think of other types of benefit that they could offer. For example, these might include information about campus food services or about courses of study. The article “Menu Minefield” (Globe & Mail 2007-11-07) is a good illustration. Media could gather and organize insight from students, in the style of Consumer Reports, Consumers’ Checkbook, and

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

SFU VFM: Promotion by Bootstrapping

The voter-funded media contest at Simon Fraser University is off to a slow start. So far only two contestants have entered the first-month round (January 2008), even though five cash prizes are offered and the entry fee is waivable. Entry deadline is January 15.

I have not undertaken an ambitious promotion effort, but have done the following:
- emailed news releases (similar to this) to The Peak and CJSF-FM on November 23 and December 13 (they haven’t published this news, as far as I know);
- emailed news releases to a political science professor and a communication professor on Nov 23 and Dec 13, asking them to forward the info to interested students (the communication professor helpfully referred me to a staff contact for forwarding to students; I’ll go ahead with that today);
- had numerous discussions with Simon Fraser Student Society representatives and other interested students, including presentations to SFSS Board and Forum in June 2007 (the two entrants so far have come from these contacts).

A media competition can promote itself. Even with just two competitors, they have an incentive to reach out to as many students (& faculty & staff) as possible, to win votes. Although media content is usually on websites, they can also promote themselves by other means such as leaflets, posters, Facebook and email. This contest will be ongoing from month to month, so the effort to attract voters will also attract future media contestants.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Contest Contrast: UBC vs SFU

Voter-funded media contests are now underway at both the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. But the two contest designs are very different. Here’s how and why they differ:

- Annual media awards budget $8000 at UBC; about $5000 at SFU.
- UBC annual budget all allocated in one annual vote in January 2008; SFU budget planned to be spread across 12 monthly votes, starting with $300 in January 2008.
- UBC’s media ballot is part of their annual student rep election ballot. But at SFU, media voting is separate from election voting, and is conducted on an online course management system where students can vote at any time.
- Contest administered by student Elections Committee at UBC; administered by Mark Latham at SFU.
- Only UBC students can vote in their VFM contest; at SFU, all students, faculty and staff can vote.

- UBC has about 45,000 students; SFU about 25,000.
- I started with UBC in 2006-2007 because it’s closer to where I live, & as a UBC alum I knew more people there and am more familiar with it.
- The primary focus was voting in elections. That’s where voters have the most power, so would benefit from insight on how to use that power. Piggybacking the media vote on the election vote seemed effective & low cost. So UBC 2006-2007 had its VFM vote on the election ballot.
- My goal was always to encourage year-round media coverage of student union issues. I urged the UBC student union to start last year’s contest in September 2006, but it didn’t start until January 2007. The student committee’s March 28, 2007 VFM report recommended starting the next contest in September 2007. But it seems it will start as late as January again this year. The AMS Elections VFM page as of today still has no info on this year’s contest, only last year’s.
- Year-round online voting for monthly media awards should help avoid this late-start problem, and encourage year-round media coverage. In fall 2007, I got the idea to use existing online course management systems for this. The plans for UBC’s 2007-2008 VFM contest were already underway, so they are still using the annual award vote system. SFU’s contest plans got rolling later, so they are using the new year-round design. I plan to recommend this new system for use at UBC after January 2008.
- When media voting is on the student union election ballot, it seems best for the student elections committee to administer it. When media voting is separate from election voting, other choices of administrator become practical. At SFU we are trying the simple design of having the contest sponsor (me) administer the contest.
- At SFU, all students, faculty and staff have access to the online course management system that hosts the VFM ballot. While it's perfectly feasible to limit VFM ballot access to students only, it's easier to leave it open to the whole SFU community. But more important is the fact that we’re all in this together. The success of SFU depends on students, faculty and staff cooperating. Issues that matter to one group will affect all. So we’re trying the “big tent” approach of encouraging media to think about the entire community.