Online Voting: The highs and lows

LinkedUp ChallengeThe LinkedUp project (promoting the use of open data in education) that I am now working on runs the LinkedUp Challenge – a series of 3 competitions: Veni, Vidi and Vici. The competitions are aimed at anyone from researchers and students, to developers and businesses, and require them to design and build innovative prototypes and demos for tools that analyse and/or integrate open web data for educational purposes. The first competition closed at the end of June and the evaluation committee are now deliberating on which is the best submission. We decided that whilst it was great that we had qualified judges to choose from the 22 entries we’d also like the wider community to participate in deciding on a People’s Choice winner. So this meant implementing an online voting process.

I’ve never ran an online voting competition before and in hindsight we maybe should have been a little more cautious (or maybe a bit more thorough) in our approach. But then this was an experiment and hopefully won’t detract from the real judging going on. Anyway you live and learn…😉

Initial Ideas

We wanted the general public to be able to vote on submissions and originally anticipated that those who had sent in a submission would be invited to showcase their idea on the Challenge website in any way they saw fit e.g. video, slides, images, text, links to demos. Our inspiration for this was the Jisc Elevator project which allowed people to upload videos along with detailed abstracts. After realising that this would be a big ask and quite a lot of work we decided to stick to using the submitted abstracts. We also debated whether we should allow everyone to enter the People’s choice or restrict it to those shortlisted in the top 8. We decided we would allow all 22 acceptable entries to be listed.

One of the main objectives around the People’s choice idea was to create a buzz around the competition. The developers could get friends and colleagues to “Vote for my submission” which would be good publicity and create interest in the project. Competitors would be encouraged to also use the #linkedupproject hash tag when tweeting.

Requirements

We knew that our coding skills weren’t up to the quick creation of an new online voting service so it was decided that we would use an external service, and preferably a free one! A quick brainstorm came up with the following requirements:

  • Easy to use
  • Randomising of entries
  • Blocking voters after one vote
  • URL links for each entry
  • Ability to add tags

Possible Solutions

I looked at a number of external services to see which would fulfil our requirements. There was no money in the budget to buy in to a service and very little resource effort so we really needed a quick and easy solution. The approaches I considered were:

I was surprised to find how little there was out there that fit the bill. Even appeals on Twitter and badgering people internally came up with very little. Many services seemed geared towards e-voting (for elections) rather than competitions, and most were too big and costly for us.

If anyone does know of any services that offers what we were after then please do let me know!

In the end we looked at two approaches in more detail:

Ideascale

I had actually used Ideascale before as a way to canvas for ideas for sessions at IWMW. It tends to be used for ideas but did seem to fit most of our criteria and worked pretty well except for randomising of entries, though there are different tabs to view entries in different ways, and ideas can be tagged. Most of the text was customisable and it looked pretty good too. It was also possible to create a widget and embed a random idea into web page.

Pros: Free, can have full text and link from abstract, can tag items, voters can only vote once on each idea
Cons: Can’t remove dislike button (have to pay to do that and it looks pretty pricey), need to log in to vote, separate site – though can scale and use for other competitions

OpinionStage

This is a way to embed polls into a blog/website.

Pros: Easy to use and embed, I think you can vote anonymously but it likes to link to social networking sites
Cons: Can’t have full abstracts so people will need to refer to a different page (though could add to the same page as the abstracts), no individual urls for abstracts – so a little bit more tricky for people to push their entry.

LinkedUp Ideascale site

LinkedUp Ideascale site

Decisions and Lessons Learnt

In the end we went with Ideascale, have a look at the LinkedUp Ideascale site (and vote!)

It would have worked really well but there was one flaw in our plan! Voters can only vote once on each idea, which is a good thing, but unfortunately they can vote up or down. As mentioned before we couldn’t remove the dislike button due to cost reasons. The result was that some competitors and their supporters were coming to the site and voting everything down except for their own entry. So despite having had a large number of votes (1258 votes recorded on 8th August) some of the entries actually have negative values. Some entrants have been more aggressive in their voting than others and the result has left some people feeling a little dejected, which isn’t great. One might argue that all’s fair in love and war and that the People’s Choice winner will deserve their prize because they will have worked hard to win it. I personally would have hoped for a little more camaraderie and a little less competitive spirit…

Anyway there is still time to vote. We won’t be announcing the winner till the LinkedUp awards ceremony at OKCon. It would be great to see all entries ending on a positive number! I’ll let you know who is the eventual winner of both the People’s choice and the overall competition.

So I guess the main lesson I’ve learnt is that if we run the People’s Choice vote again we will have to test our system a little more and ensure that there aren’t any loop holes that allow for underhand tactics! Phew! It’s a dog eat dog world out there!