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!

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