Archive | October, 2012

Are Xbox Users Democrats?

29 Oct

I cut the cord (got rid of the cable) this year. My Xbox 360 provides me my dose of TV, movies, games, and other entertainment. I also watched the three presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney live on the Xbox. To make matters interesting, there were real-time polls appearing on the screen, and users could vote with their remotes or controllers. I did too. After about half a minute of a question appearing on screen, the results were displayed in real time. That was interesting.

More interesting was the fact that Obama crushed Romney on every issue. Xbox users overwhelmingly voted for Obama, about two-thirds to one-third. This was an interesting thought experiment. Almost every poll is saying that the two presidential candidates are tied while the most reputed Gallup poll concluded that Romney is leading. These polls have been proved to be pretty accurate even with a pretty small sample size of 500 – 1000 carefully selected voters. However, on Xbox, more than 100,000 people participated in the voting, and every question had about 35,000 -40,000 respondents, which is a pretty big sample, though it’s a random one. In research, however, a random sample is what everyone tries to have thereby removing all biases.

So why do Xbox users vote for Obama? I have some theories:

  • On most questions, Obama’s name was the first option. People tend to select the first or default option. However, people voted for Obama even when he was the second option, which shows that people were not just clicking, they were actively participating.
  • Women tend to support Obama, but Xbox users are more male than female.
  • Children love Obama, but they are less likely to watch a presidential debate or vote on domestic and foreign policy matters.
  • Young voters (18-29 years) favor Obama over Romney. And they are probably more likely to own Xbox. This could be a plausible reason.
  • The blue states users have more Xboxes. It is possible that the east coast and the west coast, being densely populated, have more Xboxes, and are traditionally democratic. But the red states should counterbalance this number the way the opinion poll results show a tie.
  • Obama has an overwhelming support among the international community. It is possible that they are voting too, but how many international users care about the debate? And was the debate even broadcast outside the US?
  • African Americans support Obama, but it is unlikely that they have more Xboxes than other demographic profiles or they vote more.

Whatever is the reason, we’ll know in a few days if the Xbox polling was accurate. This is a very interesting way of using technology with a large random sample to predict election results. We’ll wait and watch.

Update: Per CNN’s exit polls, young voters (18-29 years) overwhelmingly voted for Obama (60% Obama vs. 37% Romney).  The breakup for the 30-44 age group was 52%-45% in favor of Obama. This is also the makeup of the demographic that owns and used Xbox most. This seems to be the main reason Obama had a wide lead over Romney in the Xbox polling during the presidential debates.

Additional readings
Results from the second US Presidential debate

The Wisdom of Crowds

22 Oct

James Surowiecki, a journalist, had coined the term – The Wisdom of Crowds – in 2004 (The title of his book). In this book, he argued that none of us is as smart as all of us. Or, in other words, expertise is overrated. Not that the experts are not needed in this world, but the collective wisdom of people leads to better decisions. It seems counter-intuitive, but it has been proven to be true.

  • Google was the thirteenth search engine when it had launched in1998 and yet, it became a resounding success because of the quality of its results. The search algorithm takes into account hundreds of factors but the most important factor is the number and reputations of Web sites linking to a particular Web page. It is, in essence, a vote for a page by other knowledgeable people – a collective wisdom in play.
  • Wikipedia, an openly editable encyclopaedia, allows anyone to make changes to its articles. Instead of relying on the knowledge of a few experts, Wikipedia harnesses the small chunks of information people have on a topic and combines those chunks to create millions of articles. Surprisingly, the articles outnumber the professionally produced Encyclopaedia Britannica and the number of errors are comparable too.
  • Reviews on Web sites like Amazon (products), Rotten Tomato (movies) and Yelp (restaurants) rely on the feedback of many people to produce an aggregate rating.

This concept begs a question, though. Can we put a group of people in a room, give them a task, and they would come up with the best decision? Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. This concept, to work best, has some preconditions that must be satisfied.

Diversity: The people in the group must have diverse opinions, educational and work backgrounds, experience, knowledge, and skills, which would lead to creative ideas and a large quantity of ideas. A group comprising experts on the same topic tend to think similarly.
Independence: The people must think independently from each other. In a group setting, groupthink takes over and the conversation usually follows the most vocal or the highest ranked person.
Decentralization: There is no top-down directive so nobody is in charge and the problem of mere compliance is avoided. Everyone contributes freely and voluntarily.
Incentive: There must be some incentive for the people to contribute to the overall effort. Intrinsic reasons (because I want to) work much better than extrinsic reasons (I have to because I’ve been asked to or paid).
Aggregation: There must be a mechanism to aggregate the contributions of the group. An online environment (Google, Wikipedia) works great even if the group size is millions. In an offline environment (an office setting), a designated leader can do the collection and compiling.

Additional readings
The Dirty Little Secret About the “Wisdom of the Crowds” – There is No Crowd