Posts tagged “voting”

Thank you for voting

Thank you for voting, Green Valley, AZ, January 2009

An interesting way to toot one’s own horn. This sign in Papa Murphy’s prominently yet graciously thanks us for voting for them as BEST PIZZA CHAIN in America. To paraphrase Monty Python, I didn’t vote for them. Did you? In fact, a little investigation reveals that this was a customer satisfaction and preference survey by Restaurants & Institutions Magazine. A survey is not an election. No one voted for anything.

R&I’s Consumers’ Choice in Chains survey respondents are a representative sample of U.S. consumers weighted to match the population by age, gender, household income, ethnicity and region. In all, 3,132 adults provided data about their awareness and patronage of more than 200 of the largest U.S. chains. These brands were selected for inclusion based on rankings in R&I’s 2007 Top 400 Chains list. The margin of error for this data is +/- 2%.
To gauge customer loyalty, respondents who patronized a chain in the past year are asked whether they intend to return. In addition, guest satisfaction on eight attributes is measured through customers’ ratings of each chain they patronized. To derive overall scores, performance on the attributes is weighted according to the category. This is done using separate ratings that consumers provide to indicate the importance of each attribute in selecting a restaurant in a given category. The weighted overall score can be used to compare chain performance across segments.

I applaud Papa Murphy for trying to induce a sense of participation in their patrons, reframing an external assessment as something that we can feel some involvement in, thereby sharing in their success. But the fact that the claim doesn’t stand up to just a little bit of scrutiny reveals them to be a little bit dishonest. Almost, but not quite.

See previously: Local Starbucks exhibits passion for their customers

Democracy In Action

I walked down to the local fire station early yesterday morning to vote. It’s always a small thrill to start seeing the orange VOTE signs start to appear like Halloween pumpkins.



New at the polls this year: the “Secrecy Sleeve,” a paper folder with an oddly alarming name. The Secrecy Sleeve keeps your ballot away from prying eyes during the long journey from the voting booth to the scanner that swallows it up when you’re done voting.

And when you’re done, a sticker to show that you voted. A practice reminiscent of the colored star stickers we used to receive for finishing a piece of work in elementary school. Funny how pleasing it still is to get a sticker for doing something.


Walking home, I was thinking about how badly the special pen for marking the ballot worked, and how so often very basic elements of complex systems get overlooked. When it occurred to me that I wasn’t getting rocks thrown at me, and there were no security forces with automatic weapons standing guard. So I figured I should cut them some slack about the pen.

Dynamic Crowd Wisdom

The latest edition of Rob Walker’s Consumed is about Threadless, a darling-of-the-blogosphere site that sells user-submitted/user-chosen t-shirt designs.

The voting system is straightforward: users rate each submission on a 0-to-5 scale and offer comments that range from the constructive to the unprintable. Still, some submissions never make it to the voting stage, usually because they ignore format rules, raise copyright issues or, sometimes, are simply “awful.” (Kalmikoff says that eliminating ugly designs before a vote is an infrequent but sometimes necessary measure to “protect the experience” of Threadless voters.) While most winners have scores of 2.6 or higher, one recent batch included a design with a score of 2.0. That’s because the final decision about which T’s actually get made and sold has always involved a bit of nonpublic number crunching. For example, Threadless looks at how many 0s and 5s a design gets; designs that inspire passionate disagreement often get printed because they tend to sell, Kalmikoff says.

Seems anything but straightforward! But that’s okay, I think it reveals several truths around wisdom of crowd stuff. Neat how the decision process is iterative and cumulative, as the community gets smarter and tries to game the system, and as Threadless gets smarter and tries to right the system. This sort of evolution is completely unacceptable in politics, say, but seems to be innovative when done by Threadless.

I love the blunt naivete of putting forward X choices and having people pick, and then the sophisticated noodling that comes out later as the community grows in sophisticate. It’s not unlike the elaborate hierarchy of individuals, monitoring, and other checks-and-balances created by Wikipedia, outlined by the NYT magazine last week. A simple idea and simple implementation becomes arcane and complex by inches. Is this entropy? Human nature? Evolution? Line extensions?


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