Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Eurovision jury voting returns - the 'wisdom of crowds' isn't always the best solution?

Eurovision jury voting will be re-introduced for Eurovision 2009 - a move away from the 'wisdom of crowds' public vote. The voting for the Moscow Eurovision will be decided through a mix of jury voting and public telephone voting - ending 11 years of Eurovision results purely decided by public voting in each country.

This is sure to please Terry Wogan who complained this year when Dima Bilan won the Eurovision for Russia after receiving maximum points from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and Armenia!

This is also in line with Duncan J Watts' theory espoused in 'The Science Of A Connected Age' and in a subsequent New York Times article 'Is Justin Timberlake is a product of Cumulative Advantage?' Duncan J Watts undertook a series of experiments to establish what determines music 'quality' in the eyes of the consumer. He ran a controlled experiment where half of the particpants were played songs in isolation, the other half were played the same songs, but allowed to interact with each other. He found that the participants who had social contact produced different rankings for the songs, compared to the results produced by the sample who had no contact with each other - thus deducing that 'social influence' has a big role to play in music appreciation. He concluded that the reason hit prediction is so difficult is that the fame of artists like Madonna and Justin Timberlake could be the product of social factors, rather than of superior product quality. The organisers of Eurovision 2009 hope that the re-introduction of juries (who will have the chance to hear each song a number of times) will produce a result that is derived from the quality of the individual entries regardless of their nationality or location.

Indeed the 'wisdom of crowds' concept is not the solution to everything and is often misused or mis-defined. Mark Hopkins on Mashable today has written about how James Surowiecki's wisdom of crowds theory may work well for guessing the weight of an ox, but loses its effectiveness, and may not work at all, if the crowd is too homogeneous, too centralised, too divided, too imitative or too emotional. This would certainly seem to apply for national phone voting in the Eurovision Song Contest!

So in line with Neil Perkin's idea of a 'social media yellow card for wanton abuse of terminology' I propose that catch all use of the 'wisdom of crowds' theory as the solution for everything, be included in the list of yellow card offences! Using crowd wisdom is definitely useful, but sometimes expert opinion may be more important / more useful.

Related post:
Predicting the Eurovision 2008 result using social media
Eurovision 2009 - the Google Predictor tool!


Dan said...

Laughing at the yellow card!

In my view Eurovision was never really an example of the W o C for several reasons -

- Not a votes were equal - the votes of Latvia (pop 2.2m) were equal to the votes of Germany (pop 82.4m)

- People could vote multiple times

- People didn't always vote for the best song, they voted for other reasons. There were lots of new states voting for each other, and I myself was partly responsible for making Lordi the winner a couple of years ago, purely for th crack of it.

I think, as you say, that the W o C is very bad in matters of cultural taste - and also is massively overused as a concept. Also I gave up reading the book midway through because I disagreed with so much of it!


Nick Burcher said...

So one vote per person coupled with a population weighting factor would make more logical sense - but doing this would probably spoil some of the drama. It may also stop our house voting 17 times for Sweden!

The wisdom of crowds ox example is based on using the w of c to solve a mathematical problem. As soon as you introduce any sort of emotive subject then I think it gets more complicated - especially with cyclical trends in fashion / music / culture etc where 'the answer' changes every year.