So I see that Time are running an online Most Influential People online poll. In theory this is great, in practice it’s horrible. Take a look at the poll or see the screenshot below, it’s been rigged something chronic.
Whilst I’m sure that Bhumibol Adulyadej is incredibly influential in Thailand is he really the most influential person in the world (or even, as Time’s awards seem to be really about, in America)? No, of course not – a group of people have obviously spammed the poll. Just like they would have done for Korean pop singer Rain who has little or no influence in the US.
How easy is it to rig a poll like this? In the days of online social networks, the answer is incredibly easy. One post to Digg took Nintendo guru Shigeru Miyamoto from #153 to #5 on the list in five minutes.
How easy is it to prevent polls from being rigged? Well there’s one thing the person hosting the poll can do that is pretty easy – raise the barriers to entry. Just like from economic theory, if the cost to the person voting is high (where we define cost as money, time, etc. but in terms of the internet you’d have to say time is the big factor) then most people won’t bother. If it took more than say five seconds to go and vote for someone then people would obviously be less inclined to do so. For example, if you had to register first and then wait a week after registering before voting (and you had to remember yourself that you had to go back to the website in a week) then you would get a more representative sample and not a group of flashmobbers deciding the outcome of your poll.
What the marketers inside the companies that run these polls see though is the total number of pollsters. If they can get a million people voting then they’ll be much more satisfied than if they get 10,000 – even if the latter sample is far more representative of the population.
Oh well….if Colbert can make it to number one then not all is lost…