A key part of any Ranker list are the votes are associated with each item, counting how often a user has given that item the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. These votes measure people’s opinions about politics, movies, celebrities, music, sports, and all of the other issues Ranker lists cover.
A natural question is how the opinions that votes measure relate to external assessments. As an example, we considered the The Most Dangerous Cities in America list. Forbes magazine lists the top 10 as Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, Baltimore, Stockton, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
The graph below show the proportion of up-votes, evolving over time up towards the end of last year, for all of the cities voted on by Ranker users. Eight of the Forbes’ list are included, and are highlighted. They are all in the top half of the worst cities in the list, and Detroit is correctly placed clearly as the overall worst city. Only Stockton and Buffalo, at positions 8 and 10 on the Forbes list, are missing. There is considerable agreement between the expert opinion from Forbes’ analysis, and the voting patterns of Ranker users.
Because Ranker votes are recorded as they happen, they can potentially also track changes in people’s opinions. To test this possibility, we turned to a pop-culture topic that has generated a lot of votes. The Walking Dead is the most watched drama series telecast in basic cable history, with 17.3 million viewers tuning in to watch the season 5 premiere. With such a large fan base of zombie lovers and characters regularly dying left and right, there is a lot of interest in The Walking Dead Season 5 Death Pool list.
The figure below shows the pattern of change in the proportion of up-votes for the characters in this list, and highlights three people. For the first four seasons, Gareth had been one of the main antagonists and survivors on the show. His future as a survivor became unclear in an October 13th episode where Rick vowed to kill Gareth with a machete and Gareth, undeterred, simply laughed at the threat. Two episodes later on October 26th, Rick fulfilled his promise and killed Gareth using the machete While Gareth apparently did not take the threat seriously, the increase in up-votes for Gareth during this time makes it clear many viewers did.
A second highlighted character, Gabriel, is a priest introduced in the latest season of the October 19th episode. Upon his arrival, Rick has already expressed his distrust in the priest and threatened that, if his own sins ends up hurting his family, it will be Gabriel who has to face the consequences. Since Rick is a man of many sins, the threat seems to be real. Ranker voters agree, as shown by the jump in up-votes around mid-October, coinciding with Gabriel’s arrival on the show.
The votes also sometimes tell us who has a good chance of surviving. Carol Peletier had been a mainstay in the season, but was kidnapped in the October 19th episode and did not appear in the following episode. She briefly appeared again in the subsequent episode, only to be rendered unconscious. Despite the ambiguity surrounding her survival, her proportion of up-votes decreased significantly, perhaps driven by her mention by another character, which provided a sort of “spoiler” hinting at survival.
While these two examples are just suggestive, the enormous number of votes made by Ranker uses, and the variety of topics they cover, makes the possibility of measuring opinions, and detecting and understanding change in opinions, an intriguing one. If there were a list of “Research uses for Ranker data”, we would give this item a clear thumbs up.
On today’s The O’Reilly Factor (video below), Bill O’Reilly lamented the fact that he was only #10 on Ranker’s Most Annoying TV Hosts list and decided that he would make it his New Year’s Resolution to become the #1 most annoying person on our list. While I may not share O’Reilly’s politics, I like him as a person, even as he does annoy me from time to time, and would like to help him reach his goals. I enjoy working with the Ranker dataset as it lets me answer very specific questions, like whether people who think the show 24 is overrated are also convinced that George W. Bush was a terrible person—or, in this case, I can study the people who specifically disagree that O’Reilly is annoying, in the hopes that O’Reilly can find these people and work to annoy them more.
Who does O’Reilly need to work harder to annoy? From our opinion graph of 20+ million edges, (so named because we can connect not only vague “likes” or “interests,” but specifically whether someone thinks something is best, worst, hot, annoying, overrated, etc.), we have hundreds of specific opinions that characterize people who don’t find O’Reilly annoying. Here are a chosen few findings about these people:
People who are NOT annoyed by O’Reilly tend to…
– find liberals like Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher annoying.
– believe that John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart are among the Best Actors in Film History.
– enjoy movies like The Sound of Music and Toy Story.
– watch America’s Got Talent, Cops, Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, Home Improvement, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
– listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boston, and Elvis.
– enjoy comedians like Bob Hope, Jeff Foxworthy, Joan Rivers, and Billy Crystal.
– be attracted to Carrie Underwood, Jessica Simpson, Brooklyn Decker, and Sarah Palin.
Thanks to big data, these audiences are all readily targetable online—and if O’Reilly really wants to annoy these people, he might want to study our biggest pet peeves list for ideas (e.g. chewing with his mouth open might work on TV). We hope this list will help O’Reilly with his ambitions for 2015, and please do reach out to us if you need more market research on how to annoy people more.
Recently, Tom’s Hardware used the Ranker widget to poll for their Reader’s Choice awards. Among the topics they polled was the best CPUs and while I knew that there would likely be a preference for AMD or Intel, the two largest manufacturers, I didn’t realize that the choice would be as stark. I’m a relative novice compared to most of the people who voted in this poll, so perhaps this would not surprise them, but voting for an AMD CPU, made one, on average, 80% less likely to vote for an Intel CPU, and vice versa. Below is a taxonomy of votes, with items that are voted on similarly closer together, based on a hierarchical cluster analysis of the votes on this list, so you can visualize the split for yourself.
– Ebola fear appears to be slightly less prevalent in the Northeast, as compared to other regions of the US.
– Older people tend to be slightly less afraid of Ebola, often expressing more fear of Alzheimer’s.
– International visitors to this list are half as likely to vote for Ebola, as compared to Americans.
– People who are afraid of Ebola are 4.4x as likely to be afraid of Dengue Fever.
– People who are afraid of Strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Distrophy, Influenza, and/or Depression are about half as likely to believe that Ebola is one of the world’s scariest diseases.
Bear in mind that these results are based on degree of fear and ALL people are afraid of Ebola. The fear in some groups is simply less pronounced and only the last 3 results are statistically significant based on classical statistical methods. There are plausible explanations for all of the above, ranging from the fact that conservative areas of the country are likely more responsive to potential threats, to the fact that losing one’s mind over time to Alzheimer’s really may be much scarier for older people versus a quick death, to the fact that people who are afraid of foreign diseases prevalent in tropical areas likely fear other foreign diseases prevalent in tropical areas.
To me the most interesting fact is that people who are afraid of more common everyday diseases, including Influenza, which kills thousands every year, appear to be less afraid of Ebola than others. Human beings are wired to be more afraid of the new and spectacular, as much psychological research has shown. That fear kept many of our ancestors alive, so I wouldn’t dismiss it as wrong. But it is interesting to observe that perhaps some of us are less wired in this way than others.
Something pretty cool happened last week here at Ranker, and it had nothing to do with the season premiere of the “Big Bang Theory”, which we’re also really excited about. Cincinnati’s number one digital paper used our widget to create a votable list of ideas mentioned in Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s first State of the City. As of right now, 1,958 voters cast 5,586 votes on the list of proposals from Mayor Cranley (not surprisingly, “fixing streets” ranks higher than the “German-style beer garden” that’s apparently also an option).
Now, our widget is used by thousands of websites to either take one of our votable lists or create their own and embed it on their site, but this was the very first time Ranker was used to directly poll people on public policy initiatives.
Here’s why we’re loving this idea: we feel confident that Ranker lists are the most fun and reliable way to poll people at scale about a list of items within a specific context. That’s what we’ve been obsessing about for the past 6 years. But we also think this could lead to a whole new way for people to weigh in in fairly large numbers on complex public policy issues on an ongoing basis, from municipal budgets to foreign policy. That’s because Ranker is very good at getting a large number of people to cast their opinion about complex issues in ways that can’t be achieved at this scale through regular polling methods (nobody’s going to call you at dinner time to ask you to rank 10 or 20 municipal budget items … and what is “dinner time” these days, anyway?). It may not be a representative sample, but it may be the only sample that matters, given that the average citizen of Cincinnati will have no idea about the details within the Mayor’s speech and likely will give any opinion simply to move a phone survey conversation along about a topic they know little about.
Of course, the democratic process is the best way to get the best sample (there’s little bias when it’s the whole friggin voting population!) to weigh in on public policy as a whole. But elections are very expensive, infrequent, and the focus of their policy debates is the broadest possible relative to their geographical units, meaning that micro-issues like these will often get lost in same the tired partisan debates.
Meanwhile, society, technology, and the economy no longer operate on cycles consistent with elections cycles: the rate and breadth of societal change is such that the public policy environment specific to an election quickly becomes obsolete, and new issues quickly need sorting out as they emerge, something our increasingly polarized legislative processes have a hard time doing.
Online polls are an imperfect, but necessary, way to evaluate public policy choices on an ongoing basis. Yes, they are susceptible to bias, but good statistical models can overcome a lot of such bias and in a world where the response rates for telephone polls continue to drop, there simply isn’t an alternative. All polling is becoming a function of statistical modeling applied to imperfect datasets. Offline polls are also expensive, and that cost is climbing as rapidly as response rates are dropping. A poll with a sample size of 800 can cost anywhere between $25,000 and $50,000 depending on the type of sample and the response rate. Social media is, well, very approximate. As we’ve covered elsewhere in this blog, social media sentiment is noisy, biased, and overall very difficult to measure accurately.
In comes Ranker. The cost of that Cincinnati.com Ranker widget? $0. Its sample size? Nearly 2,000 people, or anywhere between 2 to 4x the average sample size of current political polls. Ranker is also the best way to get people to quickly and efficiently express a meaningful opinion about a complex set of issues, and we have collected thousands of precise opinions about conceptually complex topics like the scariest diseases and the most important life goals by making providing opinions entertaining within a context that makes simple actions meaningful.
Politics is the art of the possible, and we shouldn’t let the impossibility of perfect survey precision preclude the possibility of using technology to improve civic engagement at scale. If you are an organization seeking to poll public opinion about a particular set of issues that may work well in a list format, we’d invite you to contact us.
Four score and seven days ago, our Ranker fathers brought forth on this continent Ranker Comics, a new and mighty crowdsourced opinion subsite on the entire comic book universe, conceived in fandom, and dedicated to the ludicrous proposition that all opinions on Batman are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war between DC Comics and Marvel, testing whether that Ranker Comics nation, or any Ranker.com subsite so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war: our parents basements. We have come to dedicate a portion of the Ranker site as a final resting place for all 17 fans of Aquaman who here gave their opinions, so that Ranker Comics might live to finally find out who would win in a fight between The Hulk and Superman. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, considering that Ranker.com has 17 million uniques and 6 million votes per month.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground without the explicit authorization of Mom (it’s her house). The brave Cheetos, Queso and Flaming Hot, who were eaten here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract the 317 irritating times Jean Grey died. The world will little note, nor long remember what other comic book websites say, but it will never forget what Ranker Comics did here.
It is for us the stay at home fans, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work of deciding which superhero had the most “emo moment,” a critical issue which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us fans to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us (besides moving out): that from these honored geek battles we take increased devotion to the DC v. Marvel debates for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these Ranker Comics voters shall not have voted in vain—that this Ranker Comics nation, under The Living Room, shall have a new birth of fandom—and that comic book opinions of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
As a point of comparison, I’ll also include predictions from WalterFootball’s Walter Cherepinsky, ESPN (based on power rankings), and Betfair (basted on betting odds for winning the Super Bowl). Since we are attempting to predict the teams with the worst records in 2014, the worst teams are listed first and the best teams are listed last.
The value proposition of Ranker is that we believe that the combined judgments of many individuals is smarter than even the most informed individual experts. Our predictions were based on over 27,000 votes from 2,900+ fans, taking into account both positive and negative sentiment by combining the raw magnitude of positive votes with the ratio of positive to negative votes. As research on the wisdom of crowds predicts, the crowd sourced judgments from Ranker should outperform those from the experts. Of course, there is a lot of luck and randomness that occurs throughout the NFL season, so our results, good or bad, should be taken with a grain of salt. What is perhaps more interesting is the proposition that crowdsourced data can approximate the results of a betting market like BetFair, for the real value of Ranker data is in predicting things where there is no betting market (e.g. what content should Netflix pursue?).