November 13, 2008

Reno Bloggers Slam TwitterVoteReport After Limited Analysis

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

On Wednesday, I received an interesting press release from Ryan Jerz and Bob Conrad, two Reno, Nevada bloggers who claim to have discovered through "independent study" that the TwitterVoteReport service, which I reported about earlier, was ineffective, inaccurate, and biased.

You can read Conrad's post here.

In the report, they reviewed reports from Nevada on election day, and studied the types of reports, the accuracy of the reports, and frequency of reports amongst individual users. According to them:
  • Vote reports did not follow recommended use of hashtags (hashtags are words preceded with a number sign that are searchable in Twitter)
  • Vote reports were potentially dominated a minority of users (one user in Nevada had 38% of the posted reports for that state)
  • Vote reports were subjectively approved to be publicly posted on the Vote Report site
  • Vote reports were subjectively "dismissed" from posting using inconsistently enforced criteria
  • Vote reports were duplicated
  • Vote reports were posted that appeared irrelevant as to intent of the Vote Report (one example from Nevada: "@DwayneH dude I love egg salad sandwiches, but liquor store is scary. downtown scarier, even. best of luck. #votereport").
While some points are valid, the entire tone of the release was very negative against The report made it sound like even though Twitter users in Nevada were so few in number compared to the rest of the nation, the entire TwitterVoteReport site and organization seemed biased, and that the entire site was a failure. It was simply too small a demographic to base such a study, so why post a release about it at all?

I did some research myself on the study, and in researching the one person they say dominated 39% of the posts the day of the report, the majority of posts by that person were simply retweeting valid responses they saw that did not include the #votereport hash tag. Contacting the organizers of TwitterVoteReport I'm told that the individual mentioned was also responsible for voter outreach on election day on Twitter for the entire USA, which would explain the flurry of posts. More than anything that user was making the cause less biased by pointing out posts that were not tagged with #twittervotereport.

Additionally, some of the very data the report cited was generated by the authors themselves. It was Ryan Jerz who sent out the tweet about egg salad, while using the #votereport hashtag, after all...

According to one of the organizers of TwitterVoteReport:
The goal was to get a report of what was going on at polling places around the country and we did that in a new and innovative way. And it was fun! This was an all volunteer project with no money or resources around so I think its fair to point out flaws but that's about it. The reason the data is transparent is so that people like you can look at it and IMPROVE upon it for future use. The goal is to show everyone what we did so that more people can work on it and improve it.
Based on my own studies of TwitterVoteReport, the project has been transparent from the start, and is a gold mine of data surrounding voter experience, registration, and issues. It has been an all volunteer project with many volunteers across the nation working to ensure the issues were heard. One developer in particular cranked out an iPhone app and got it approved and in the App Store within a matter of days. Sysadmins were volunteering overtime hours on Election day to just try and keep the site up, all on a volunteer basis.

I don't know why, but it would appear Jertz and Conrad could perhaps have some bias of their own. The release was very strange and makes me wonder about the motivations behind it, to say the least. With such a small sample of data that Nevada as a whole provided to the service, along with the entire stream of data being provided via API to any developer that wants access to it beyond what just made it to the website, I think this study by Jertz and Conrad was a bit unfair. I still hold strong that was a great, all volunteer project that contributed to incredible information about voter experience throughout the nation.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.