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.