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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Happy birthday, Canada

As I mentioned earlier, the CBC's been running a wish list on Facebook for the last little while. It was supposed to revolutionize the media, and was trumpeted from the hilltops in typical CBC style. Canadians would express their hopes and dreams for the future, and the rivers would run with chocolate. The results would be announced on Canada Day, as a birthday present to Canadians, I guess.

I've been watching the results over the past few weeks, and am having a hard time believing that the winners in the Great Canadian Wish List actually represent the hopes and dreams of Canadians.

Seriously? This is the list of hopes and dreams for our future? If so, how come nobody's happy about it? Where are the rivers of chocolate?

Instead, there has been a lot of nastiness between the two top groups -- nobody's paying attention to the others anyway. The Abolish Abortion group was set up first and took an early lead. The Remain Pro-Choice group was established when it became clear that the other group was way out in front, and it gained a lot of ground very quickly. For weeks, the two groups were almost tied. Then both groups started to scream about cheating. I watched as both gained support by the hundreds in a matter of minutes. It was due to a quirk in the program that allowed people to vote over and over for their favourite wish.

Facebook deleted thousands of multiple votes, but people still complained about sock-puppet accounts (which I can't support), votes from people outside Canada (which I also can't support), and open campaigning from special-interest groups (which are totally in the spirit of this project).

There's no way to know how many sock puppets are out there. The pro-choice group pointed out that a significant proportion of the abolish-abortion group do not have avatars. This would suggest:

  • that those accounts are new; and/or
  • that the people who created those accounts did not want to include photos; and/or
  • that the people who created those accounts did not know how to include photos.
Although this is interesting, it is not really relevant. If someone wants to join Facebook just to be able to vote in this project, that's fine. It would be no problem to create hundreds of sock-puppet accounts that had photos, either -- I personally don't have the energy to do this, but other people apparently do. And I think it's really insulting to suggest that people who are against abortion are so stupid that they don't know how to add pictures.

It's pretty clear that there are votes coming from outside Canada. The active campaigning (which I'll get to in a moment) has pulled in thousands of votes from lobby groups in the States on both sides. This is really not cool. Both groups were so desperate to win that they didn't care how they got votes.

Um, guys? This is a stupid CBC poll on Facebook. It means nothing, especially when everyone knows that you've stacked the deck. It's sort of funny, though, because if this hadn't gotten so out of hand, one of these wishes might have finished in the top ten, and that would have been huge news. (What?! Ordinary Canadians care about this?!) As it is, everyone's talking about lobby groups.

And that brings me to the last complaint I've heard: that people have been actively campaigning for their wishes. I'm not sure why this is such a bad thing. Isn't that the point? If you get enough people to vote for your wish, you'll end up at the top of the list. You do this by getting the word out and by not allowing your wish to be confused with others. Target people who are likely to agree with your wish but not likely to vote, and convince them to vote. That's completely fair, and if the "save the environment" guys were doing it, nobody would bat an eye. The same thing happened when the CBC did their "Greatest Canadian" poll -- does anyone seriously think that Canadians thought Tommy Douglas was the greatest Canadian before all of the campaigning started?

CBC's gotten a lot of flack over this project
, but I think it's been an interesting experiment. Not exactly what CBC was planning to get, of course, but interesting in any case.

Welcome to Web 2.0, CBC. And happy birthday, Canada.