19 September 2006

Wisdom of the Football Hooligans

Now here's a spooky story:

PicksPal is a free sports site where people “bet” on upcoming games. No money is involved. If they win, their point total goes up and they have bragging rights around the office. Since launching about a year ago over 100,000 people have joined the site, making daily picks on just about every kind of sporting event in the U.S. - boxing, NFL football, pro football, bass fishing, ultimate fighting, basketball, baseball, etc. The site makes money from advertising.

Recently, however, the PicksPal team noticed that a very small percentage of users tend to be correct in their picks significantly more often that they should be statistically. When they grouped these special users they found them to be a powerful predictive force.

I care not a jot for sports or betting, but what is interesting here is that the idea can be generalised. You set up a site devoted to a particular domain with uncertain results, and invite visitors to predict the future. You then analyse the patterns over time and try to find groups of people who consistently beat random guesses.

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