Friday, November 13, 2015

Color me cheater pants

Everything these days seems to be about engaging the customers, the wisdom of crowds. And when you can combine them, so much the better. Or so the MBTA, Boston’s transportation system, thought when it asked riders to weigh in on the paint schemes for its new cars. Not the color scheme, mind you. Those are set in stone. As folks in the area know, the rapid transit lines are all color-coded: Red Line, Orange Line, Green Line, Blue… But folks were asked to vote for the paint pattern that they wanted to see. The voting vehicle: SurveyMonkey (online surveying), since, as we all know, you can’t really engage a customer or tap into the wisdom of crowds without deploying some wise and engaging technology.

But something gang agley with the whole thing, one of the worst things to happen to local transpo since Charlie got on the precursor MTA without the extra nickel he needed to get off. (I guess the other worst thing that happened to public transpo was of more recent vintage: last year’s periodic shutdowns during Snowmageddon, when we got 10 feet of snow in 5 weeks.)

Participation during the two-week survey period was seemingly enthusiastic, but then the T started taking a closer look at survey results: On Tuesday, it acknowledged that:

…its fun little survey had gone awry. The agency said it would put off the choices on the paint job for now.

“The MBTA has decided to hold the results of the survey in abeyance until this matter has been resolved,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail. (Source: Boston Globe)

The reason for keeping results in “abeyance” – abeyance: no wonder Boston always wins the polls as the smahtest city in the US of A – was that voting seemed “normal” for the Orange Line, but was suspiciously skewed for the Red and Green Lines.

For the Orange Line, 25,000 votes were recorded, and the winning paint scheme got 41% of the votes. Sounds about right.

For the Red and Green Lines, there were over 175,000 votes cast, and the top scheme captured roughly 90% of the votes.

Hmmmm. Now the home turf of the likes of Martin Lomasney and James Michael Curley is no stranger to the notion of stuffing the ballot box. But there’s voting the dead, and then there’s:

Hundreds of votes appeared to have originated from the same computer, which submitted as many as three survey responses per second, according to results posted online. Vote totals spiked unusually late in the survey period.

Obviously someone wanted to game the system and make sure that “their” paint pattern of choice got chosen.

And with spamming vote-bots hammering away, so much for engaging the customer and the wisdom of crowds.

It’s interesting to note that the Orange Line, where it doesn’t appear that there was any cheating, services less affluent neighborhoods. Sure, there are plenty of yuppies in Charlestown and Jamaica Plain, but there are also projects and poor people.

The Red Line, while also going through some non-upper-crusty ‘hoods, has a stop at Harvard, and two stops (Kendall and Central) that flank MIT.

And the Green Line, before it terminates in the nice and leafy burbs, runs by or to pretty much every other college in Boston: BU, BC, Northeastern, Simmons, Emmanuel, Wentworth, Emerson…

Should we be smelling a student techie rat here?

Since the first of the trains (Green Line trolleys) won’t be delivered until 2017, the T has some time to figure out what’s what, paint-scheme wise.

Maybe they need another way to engage and wisdom-tap.

Me? I actually liked things better when every entity I purchase something from wasn’t trying to “engage” me. I’m much more into the old philosophy of leave-me-alone.

And as for the wisdom of crowds…

Not with Donald Trump and Ben Carson leading the pack…

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