Monthly Archives: July 2009

Beware of Indices. A Critique of Mediaite Power Rankings

This post is about indices (plural of index). It might be dry. However, bad indices are a blight on humanity which I must combat. Onward!

An index can be extremely useful.  A good index will compile a combination of numbers (data points) that when combined tell a story.

An example of good index is the consumer price index. The CPI collects data about a basket of goods which reflect the overall prices of consumer products. As a representative index it has data that’s inherently connected.  Even better, it outlines which questions it has been designed to answer:

The CPI affects nearly all Americans because of the many ways it is used. Following are major uses:

As an economic indicator. More.

As a deflator of other economic series. More.

As a means of adjusting dollar values. More.

The reason I wrote this post is because I came across an example of a bad index: the mediaite power ranking index. Mediaite (mediaite) is a news centric website created by media consultant Dan Abrams for media aficionados. A key “attraction” of the website is their power rankings. In these power rankings, they ranking people in a variety of different media fields from journalists to anchors to owners. Unfortunately these rankings make absolutely no sense.

In order to try and understand these rankings, I asked two questions: 1) What is it trying to measure? 2) What does it measure?

The answer to the first question is “answered” in the FAQ:

What is the Power Grid?
It is an objective ranking of roughly 1,500 known and important players in the media today, divided into categories including Media Moguls, TV Anchors and Hosts, Magazine Editors, Print and Online Editors, and Top TV Executives.

Mmhm…an objective ranking of players in the media today. Notice what’s missing, objective ranking based on what? Given the name, I guess we’re to assume that it’s a ranking of media power? Except that elsewhere on the same site the rankings are referenced an “influence” index. Influence over whom or what? Influence over other world affairs? Influence over public opinion? Influence over other media? Influence over Dan Abrams and his staff? I’m not sure we’re going to get an answer to that question. Let’s move on to analyzing what the “influence rankings” actually do measure.

What does this index measure? Well, for each different category it uses different metrics which are then put into a secret algorithm. The definitions of each metric are available on the FAQ page.  Let’s look at some specific examples, first the anchors/hosts categories.

hosts

First of all this category makes no sense. Why would you compare Oprah/Katie Couric/ Bill O’Reilly? They are competing for very different audiences and have very different “power”.  This is close to the definition of apples and oranges.  Ranking them hierarchically makes no sense.

Having established the very absurdity of the category we’ll analyze the validity of the metrics and the importance of the assigned weights for each category.

First, are the metrics valid.  In this case there are three primary metrics (and apparently a fourth less prominent category).  The three prominent metrics are total viewers, google buzz, and blog buzz and if you dig deeper you’ll also find that the number of twitter followers is also included in the calculation.  How are these measured?

Well, there is no “metric” in mediaite’s FAQ called “total viewers” the closest relevant metric is time-slot ratings which is described as follows:

Time slot Ratings – This metric is the total viewership of the program, as extrapolated from Nielsen-reported television ratings.Note: in some cases television ratings have been adjusted for individuals who appear on programs that only air once per week, or are part of a larger ensemble cast.

This is a long standing professional measure of media figures because we suppose that the more successful one is the more viewers they will attain (more viewers also is connected with more revenue for the media company).  The next two categories, google buzz and blog buzz are more problematic:

Google Buzz of Name – This metric is the number of relevant hits yielded by a Google search of an individual’s name. Irrelevant hits, such as those for similarly-named individuals, are filtered out. For instance, the Google Buzz metric for James B. Stewart, the writer and reporter, filters out hits for Jimmy Stewart, the actor, and for James Stewart, Jr., the motocross racer.

Google Blog Buzz of Name – This metric is the number of relevant hits yielded by a Google blog search of an individual’s name. Irrelevant hits, such as those for similarly-named individuals, are filtered out. For instance, the Google Blog Buzz metric for James B. Stewart, the writer and editor, filters out hits for Jimmy Stewart, the actor, and for James Stewart, Jr., the motocross racer.

These metrics assume that any mention of a person on the internet adds to their power/influence.  It’s because of these metrics that Katie Couric is ranked above her competitors Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams (they both have much higher viewership totals).  Yet, if you do your own google search of the name Katie Couric you’ll learn that the high number of google hits has to do more from Sarah Palin and less with Katie Couric.  Katie Couric happened to have an interview with Sarah Palin, which became famous because Palin appeared buffoonish.  This interview is credited with doing significant damage to the Palin brand, and to the McCain campaign as a whole.  Additionally, if you do a google blog search of Katie Couric you’ll find posts titled “TV Anchor Babes”, “Should Katie Couric Quit”, and “Katie Couric – The Face of Media Bias.”  Mediaite claims that each of these posts increases Katie Couric’s power/influence.  In my experience, blogs are more likely to cite a journalist or post their work if they disagree with the journalist.  A search of prominent posts from the last two weeks at the website Daily Kos found 31 articles regarding Fox News, and fewer than 10 articles each regarding CBS, NBC, or ABC. Mediaite would claim that each of those pieces about Fox News shows it has more power/influence than any of the broadcast networks. Mediaite would also claim that this very post is increasing Couric’s power/influence.

These rankings do not measure anything.  Each metric on its own tells a story which can then be deciphered in different ways, but when combined they make nonsensical noise—especially given that we don’t know what proportions of each metric were used for the final product. If these rankings were to remain Dan Abrams little parlor game, then there wouldn’t be much problem with his silly rankings.  Unfortunately, Abrams is pushing these rankings as legitimate “objective” measures of professional success.   The last thing the media needs right now is to enter a competition to get cited by the blogosphere.

In short, Mediaite fail.

If after reading this you care for more critiques of the rankings or a response from the people at mediatite check out this article (while it was written a while ago, I only found it after writing the above).

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Wolfram Alpha = Sucks < Google

I think Wolfram Alpha sucks. It could be very useful if I spent lots of time fiddling around and learning how it works. But why would I do that when I can pour the drivel directly from my brain into Google’s search engine and it will give me what I want 90% of the time?

wolfram-alpha-150x150The defense of Wolfram Alpha is that it is good with data. Okay. But so is Google. Perhaps I will ask Google to quantify how much Wolfram Alpha sucks.

So I googled, “Wolfram Alpha sucks”. 651,000 hits. Good, good. I would like to hit Wolfram Alpha about that many times.

But wait. I googled, “Wolfram Alpha rocks”. 1,141,000 hits. Now, this isn’t a perfect science, obviously, but in this informal poll of Google, Wolfram Alpha is doing pretty well.

It can’t be so.

I try again. Perhaps ‘sucks’ and ‘rocks’ aren’t very good antonyms. I try, “Wolfram Alpha terrible”, 496,000 hits. “Wolfram Alpha awesome”, 825,000 hits. Now maybe the sort of person who is inclined to write an internet piece about this site is the sort of person who is predisposed to like data and just eats up the Wolfram Alpha gig. Or maybe Wolfram Alpha is actually pretty good, and I am wrong.

Nooooooo!!!

But, a redeeming final thought: If I enter any of those search terms into Wolfram Alpha, you know what happens?

It says, “Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.”

Great quantitative analysis of your own self-worth, Wolfram Alpha.

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Recession + Obesity = High Waisted Fashion Trend

SkirtAs this Wikipedia entry on Fast Fashion illustrates beautifully, the fashion world is not typically a friend to your figure or your wallet. Nonetheless, by some cosmic fluke, the present prevailing fashion trend of high waisted skirts can be both.

Many Americans are finding themselves short on cash in the present economy. Many Americans are also a little heavier than they were a few years ago. Not to worry. For once, good can come of this situation. You see, skirts that once fit nicely around your hips in as per that early-2000’s trend will now fit snugly around your waist and be miraculously trendy. And you don’t have to spend a dime.

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Palin Criticized Unfairly

This week Sarah Palin was in the news for resigning from the Governorship of Alaska. If you’ve watched television in the past three days you’ve probably seen much mockery about Sarah Palin’s invocation of the federal government’s Department of Law, because DUH! it’s called the Department of Justice.

Her full quote was:

“I don’t think it will be the day after day after day of ethics violation charges that are frivolous, that are ridiculous. I think on a national level your department of law there in the White House would look at this, the things we have been charged with, and automatically throw them out, not make somebody hire their own personal attorney to get out there and fight.”

All over twitter, blogs, MSNBC, and Facebook people mocked Palin as ignorant.

One Daily Kos author wrote:

True, this was not the first sign of Palin’s extremely limited, ahem, knowhow about these matters (and everything else outside moose hunting, running for beauty contests, winking at the audiences, making babies and shopping at Neiman Marcus)

I think that many of these critics are latching on to this comment because it fits very well into the Sarah Palin is an ignorant yahoo story line.  Unfortunately, this time it seems that Palin made a simple and quite understandable mistake.

Mark Tushnet at Balkinization explains:

The liberal blogosphere is getting all snarky about Sarah Palin’s reference to the “department of Law” in Washington. I’d just like to point out that it doesn’t take much (a Google search) to discover that the Attorney General of Alaska runs the state’s Department of Law. Surely a governor is entitled to describe the legal office associated with the executive branch as the branch’s department of law. Emphasis is mine.

There are many much more serious issues than this and given this logical explanation for Palin’s comment, it seems like this would be a great time to drop it.

Here’s the google search that Tushnet refers to:

Picture 1


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Hillary Clinton has a USA elbow sling

As you may have heard, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke her elbow three weeks ago.  What you probably haven’t heard is that her sling has the official Great Seal of the United States, specifically the coat of arms.

This thing:US-GreatSeal-eagle.svg

According to wikipedia:

The Great Seal of the United States is used to authenticate certain documents issued by the United States federal government. The phrase is used both for the physical seal itself (which is kept by the United States Secretary of State), and more generally for the design impressed upon it. The Great Seal was first used publicly in 1782.

The design on the obverse of the great seal is the national coat of arms of the United States.[1] It is officially used on documents such as United States passports, military insigniaembassy placards, and various flags. As a coat of arms, the design has official colors; the physical Great Seal itself, as affixed to paper, is monochrome.

It’s also on her arm sling see:

With President Zelaya of Hondurus

With President Zelaya of Hondurus

Zoom on the sling:

zoomedMakes me wonder, are those arm slings available publicly? Is there other clothes branded with the coat of arms?

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Funny Ad Juxtaposition: NOW 31 and Indie Passion

Sometimes google ads make for funny ads.  How many people who are reading Indie Passion are going to buy NOW music 31? Also, I didn’t know that NOW: That’s What I Call Music was still selling albums.  I guess $11.99 is cheaper than 20 singles, but I imagine that most people never actually liked all of the songs on NOW. Either way, this ad is on the wrong blog.

Picture 1

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Pool Kicks Out Black Kids. Explains that the problem was their “complexion”

Wow. A pool in philadelphia kicked out 60 African-American campers whose camp had paid $1900 for them to swim there once a week.

The swim club, The Valley, explained in a prepared statement that the kids were kicked out because:

“There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

That was a prepared statement, not off the cuff. I guess we can give Mr. Duesler props for being honest?

NBC Philadelphia reports:

“I heard this lady, she was like, ‘Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?’ She’s like, ‘I’m scared they might do something to my child,'” said camper Dymire Baylo

“When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool,” Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. “The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately.”

This does not sound like a story that belongs in the year 2009.  It’s incredible that children, parents, and club attendants all acted in such a racist manner.  I guess they should add something about preserving their “complexion and atmosphere” to their rules.

This makes me wonder if today racism is worse in the suburbs, which remain mostly white, or in the inner city where racism is often masked by concerns about “delinquents” and “criminals.”

Gives you something to think about.

In a later report club president Deusler claims that the decision had “nothing to do with race.”  But refused to be interviewed and the club didn’t allow media on their property.  I’m guessing they’re having an emergency board meeting tonight.

You can view that report here:

Luckily, a local boarding school for children of low-income and single family homes has stepped in and offered the use of their pool for the campers.

Additionally, Senator Arlen Specter has spoken out about this and is speaking with the parties involved:

“The allegations against the swim club as they are reported are extremely disturbing,” Specter said in a statement. “I am reaching out to the parties involved to ascertain the facts. Racial discrimination has no place in America today.”

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