"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Everyone likes to be appreciated, I certainly do.

Many years ago a magazine told me that one of my books had been nominated by their readers as the best book published that year so I was invited to the "awards ceremony" (OK dinner at a restaurant in London). Of course I was excited. However, when it came to the "ceremony" it turned out that I came second to a book which I had been given by the publisher (ie I didn't even pay for it) and I felt was poorly written and technically incorrect in many places. My books are neither, so how did I come second?

Well, it was the methodology of the voting. The magazine had asked its readers to email-in the titles of their favourite books. This was not a survey, carefully balancing the respondents to make sure that they are representative of the "community" (like opinion polls). And neither was it an expert and informed panel (like the Man-Booker prize). No, the people who voted were those that like voting: a self-selected electorate. I was happy with the result, because it gave me a free dinner in a swanky London restaurant, but I did not tell anyone that I had come second to an inferior book.

After the awards were handed out I congratulated the winner and we chatted for a while (well, the drinks were free) and I asked him what the sales of his book were like. It turned out that his inferior book had sold third of the sales of my book. (That book of mine has sold 40,000 world wide, which is not bad for a $50 technology book.)

So why do I mention this? Well I find that I am now number 85 in the Total Politics list of the most popular Labour blogs, and because of this I am entitled to use the image above. The problem is that this is just as worthless as coming second in the best book of the year list. The methodology of the Total Politics list is ropey at best: you email TP your top five list of blogs and they then generate the list according to the categorisation of your blog as registered on their site. Yet again, the people voting are self-selected; there is no effort to make the "electorate" representative of the population of the UK, or of internet users, or of political blog readers.

It turns out that I was right to list my blog as "Labour" rather than "left-wing". There are far more "left-wing" blogs than Labour (even though some on the "left-wing" list, like Red Rag, are clearly Labour blogs), so it is easier to get on the Labour list than the "left-wing" list. For example, if you compare the top 100 left wing blogs with the top 100 Labour blogs you'll see that Stilettoed Socialist, Ellie Gellard's site, is listed as number 100 in the left-wing blog list but number 42 in the Labour blog list. Assuming that the same number of votes puts Ellie's site at those two positions (which is a reasonable assumption), this indicates that you have to get more votes to get a placing in the left-wing blog list than the Labour list. My site is 40 places below Ellie's site on the Labour list, which shows why my site is not in the left-wing list. Indeed, all of the top 42 Labour sites are in the top 100 left-wing list and so the Labour list is a subset of the left-wing list (as you would expect). Clearly being partisan is a good thing!

So drawing a parallel to the anecdote I gave above, I had a look at the traffic to my blog. No I won't tell you the figures because I don't want the people reading this to feel too exclusive! But I certainly cannot feel superior like I was knowing that my book sales were better than the book judged "better" than mine.

So I have put the Total Politics "award" gif on my site's sidebar knowing that actually it came from just a handful of votes. I suppose it is like being a LibDem minister: you have to achieve far less to be appreciated far more!

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