Game the System

(How Ike became the #1 Twitter Elite of Planet Earth)

We just came out of an election season where there were multiple ways to keep score:

  • Popular vote
  • Electoral vote
  • States carried

In the above instance, we have a constitutional mandate that tells us which one matters. Life is often more fuzzy than that. Take the college football standings in the Big-12 South, where three teams finished with seven wins and a single loss.

  • Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35
  • Texas Tech beat Texas 39-33
  • Oklahoma beat Texas Tech 65-21

Big 12If you spin them head-to-head, you just keep rolling in a circle. The Texas fans think their win ought to count for “more,” because it happened on a neutral field. The Oklahoma fans say Poppycock (or something equally rustic, and likely demeaning to both cowboys and cows), that they lost to Texas within the state of Texas. Also, Oklahoma appears to win in both overall strength-of-schedule and in point differential.

The Texas Tech coach, realizing his team was too far out of the conversation to matter, said his team’s higher graduation rate ought to break the tie.

Instead, the division championship came down to which team was highest ranked by an arcane formula involving two separate polling efforts, six computers algorithms, a field mouse and SCUBA gear. No one knows, we just trust the result. Or complain about it.

Laughter, the best disinfectant

Hidden processes are at the heart of how one can claim victory in something few understand. Which is exactly what Matt Bacak did earlier this week.

Mr. Bacak – in a fit of self-promotion, powerfully promoted his wares as a marketing guru with a press release touting his score on a service called Twitter Grader. He claimed to have risen to the rank of #3 in the Atlanta Twitter Elite. And every bit of it was true.

What is also true is that on the very same day, I truthfully proclaimed myself the #1 Twitter Elite of Planet Earth.

Unlike Mr. Bacak, I won’t sell you any expensive secrets. Here’s how it’s done.

  1. Find a service that offers some type of rankings.
  2. Figure out what impresses that service.
  3. Emulate, taking as many shortcuts as you can.

Holes in the System

Here are the secrets Matt won’t tell you.

First, Twitter Grader rewards people who appear to have more “followers” than they actually “follow”.  There are many users of the service who pride themselves on maintaining as even a ratio as possible. So Matt added as many as he could – waited for the reciprocal follow-back – then did a mass dump of his “following” list. As of yesterday, he was being followed by over 1900 people, but he was only following 32. The ratio makes you appear more influential than you are.

Second, the location definition for “Twitter Elite in ________” is arbitrary and has no heirarchy. If you put “Muncie, IN” as your location, you will only be compared to those with a match. Switch to just “Muncie” and you’re in a different pool. It’s entirely possible that you could be far-and-away the TwitterKing of Muncie, yet not show up in a search for the state of Indiana. I chose “Planet Earth” for my location. I could have claimed the whole galaxy. It doesn’t matter.

Other than changing my location to “Planet Earth” for a day, I did nothing to game the system.

Tempest in a Twitpot

This is worthy of more than a laugh. There are a couple of object lessons here.

I can’t feel very sorry for Matt. Either he knew precisely what he was doing and ought to be ashamed for promoting it, or he has no clue and ought to be prevented from drawing consulting fees from businesses that don’t know any better.

Additionally, this is a call to feed your inner skeptic.

  • When someone makes a claim, ask for the proof. 
  • When you see the proof, ask for the innards of the algorithm. 
  • When you don’t understand the algorithm, ask for an explanation. 
  • When you don’t understand the explanation, run.

Does this mean I need to quit relying on the almighty Google? That depends. Am I satisfied with the results? Mostly. Is it costing me anything? No. But at least I’m putting the algorithm to the test.

And you should, too.

[tags]Ike Pigott, Occam’s RazR, algorithm, search, marketing, BCS[/tags]

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Comments

  1. I was wondering where this was going when I saw you mention your rank yesterday. Very very nicely played!

    -Todd

  2. Well done Ike. Both funny AND useful. Ranking systems should never be taken at face value. Look at how many blog ranks use Technorati numbers as a measure…

  3. Great article, thanks!

    As the developer of Twitter Grader, I’ll agree with your statements around the limitation of the software. The algorithm is evolving and getting better, but it’s really hard to tell sometimes between those with true authority and reach, and others that have gamed the system.

    Unfortunately, Twitter Grader is kind of a side project, so I have limited resources to try and “fix” the algorithm to catch stuff like this.

    In any case, happy twittering.

    Cheers,
    Dharmesh

  4. Ike,
    A great post. I’ve got a feeling that Mr. Bacak is not ashamed. I think his picture is in Wikipedia under Shameless Self Promotion.

  5. I used to rank high on Twitter’s Canada Elite because I used location Canada and people are usually more precise in their location. So I switched (I don’t always bother putting my home town and province because some people confuse those places for other places…). This is all to say that I’ve also seen this in action and agree with you.

  6. I am reminded of some statistics I heard on the radio.

    I was listening to talk radio, when they mentioned new statistics out by the CDC.
    Single women are less likely to have health insurance than their married counterparts.
    Single women are 4 times more likely to have medicaid than married women.

    Well let’s break that down…Since women typically outlive their husbands then there is a good reason for the discrepancy. People have to make BELOW a certain amount in order to qualify for Medicaid. It is harder for a household to qualify for medicaid.

    I know that there was more to my logic. I just remember talking back to the radio wondering why this was such a news story.

  7. Never have I seen such a fierce rivalry between two college football teams than I have seen between OK and Texas. I lived in Oklahoma for close to 5 years during my college years, and it was nuts.

  8. I’d have to put Alabama-Auburn up there, Angi… it’s brutal.

  9. It amazes me how people can be so silly to think other will buy junk like this. Thanks for making the point loud and clear.

    Perhaps a nofollow link to Matt Bacak rip-off report will help him the promotion he’s looking for :)

Trackbacks

  1. rt interesting post from @ikepigott on Bacak-gate — http://tinyurl.com/5ptf2r

  2. Russell Cook says:

    @ikepigott Well said, Ike. http://tinyurl.com/5ptf2r There is no substitute for independent thought and research

  3. RT @ikepigott: How Matt Bacak gamed the system: http://tinyurl.com/5ptf2r

  4. Franca says:

    The #1 Twitter Elite of PLANET EARTH! @ikepigott explains what this twitter ranking fetish is ALL about http://is.gd/a39G

  5. [...] Johnnie Moore’s Brand Autopsy room promises to be a big draw, where John (and other guest bloggers) will dissect the branding and marketing efforts of various hapless organizations as a special hourly feature. In addition, Robert Scoble’s upcoming trip to Mars to throw a blanket over the formerly-tweeting Phoenix explorer and mount a super-secret Nokia Nscoble camera phone on its robotic arm will be prominently featured, along with a 3-d hologram of the immortal Matt Bacak. [...]

  6. [...] to mock another Matthew, who trumpeted his own dominance of Twitter. I showed how easy it was to game the system to become the Number One Twitter User on Planet Earth.Apparently, Fake Twitter Guru Matthew Duggan [...]