Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Another True Mother's Day Post

A few facts have been vaguely altered and a few others simply left vague in order to protect the innocent and the guilty (and just generally keep names out of the paper), but the below story is most definitely true. I've just lived it. If you don't believe me... tough!

On the eleventh, Friday, I received an email from my friend Marie announcing a "Greatest Mom" contest from a local promotional entity in honor of Mother's Day. The winner was to get a free spa-day valued at 450USD. Marie, who happens to be a mother, really wanted this prize. Hence the email requesting my vote. Yes, vote. You see, thirty contestants had submitted photographs of themselves as mothers, and the teeming world-wide web populace was now expected to rate each picture on a 1-10 scale so that the area's "Greatest Mom" might be properly recognized and rewarded. Being a loyal friend to those worthy of my friendship, I clicked the link and cast my vote.

One problem, though: A cursory glance showed that each contestant's family and friends had already flooded the polls, each voter rating their horse at 10 and everyone else's at 1. Meaning every picture ranked remarkable low, save one. That one, nothing truly special, held a seven-point-five. All right, who cares? Apparently, I did. A slightly deeper investigation revealed, however, that with everyone voting multiple times (as is the lowly tradition of internet polls) many thousands of votes had already been cast on the merit of each competitor. There seemed very little that one man could do.

Interestingly, however, this man knew just the other man for the job. I placed a call to TheLoneOperative, whose Scandinavian contacts would make quick work of this contest. Imagine the results, if you will, when two-percent of Norway's population votes together in an online poll. This was the plan, but with time zones it would not actually go into effect until the next day, Saturday. But, come the twelfth, Marie's rating shot from a three-point-six to an eight-point-seven. Quite dramatic.

Now, you might ask why I cared so much. So might I ask. But some of it probably had to do with the fact that this contest, before my arrival, was going to a wholesale volume of votes. And I've always felt that the quality of friends is far more important than the quantity. Maybe I was sending the message (if only to myself) that to have me on your side is to have an army on your side. Another factor would probably be the content of the photographs. As I said, the leader was nothing particularly special, but Marie's was of her frequent motherly task of tending to her youngest child's diabetes. A low rating here was insult, as was the scorn given to another photograph, one of a mother reading aloud to her offspring. I made sure a number of Norwegian votes went to the reader, as well. Those votes proved enough to give her a solid third when all was said and done. I also informed Marie of my support for this particular rival, and jokingly begged her not to do me in if the bookworm should pass her in the polls. Not that there was actually anything to fear there.

The next day was Sunday, Mother's Day proper, and nothing really happened. I found out on Monday that I was sick as a dog throughout Mother's Day, but unfortunately I was I actually too sick to know it. It didn't matter, as Marie maintained her lead of 8.7 over the second-highest of 7.5 throughout the entire day. With the tens-of-thousands of ten point votes sent her way, it was little wonder.

Then came the fourteenth, Monday. At 0600 I logged on and checked the ratings. No change. All was safe. At work six hours later, just before heading to lunch, I checked the website again. The main page proclaimed the winner, the "Greatest Mom!" I clicked the link. Our company's network connection is quite fast in itself, but I on the spur of the moment I had borrowed a computer terminal in a different department, and this particular machine was old enough that the page took several seconds to load. The text widened to make room for a smallish version of the winning photograph. The suspense grew. But how could there be any suspense? I knew who had won. And there it was. Only it wasn't. Here, proclaimed the winner before the entire online world, was a different picture. The leader a few days before, prior to the great Norwegian intervention, was being proclaimed winner despite its fall to second place. I was shocked. And somewhat enraged.

Unable to reconcile the differing information points, I logged in after lunch on a more modern computer in my own department and checked the ratings. Marie still led, eight-point-seven versus seven-point-five. Unbelievable. And the polls hadn't actually been shut down. Suspicious.

At day's end I prepared an email to those holding the contest.

I am writing in regard to your "Greatest Mom!" contest.
You have listed a winner, but a different photo has held the higher average since Saturday. I'm a little confused as to the system used; any clarification would be
To put it more simply, I demand a recount!

I again checked the ratings. The polls still had not been closed. Marie, still in the lead, had dropped to an 8.5 rating, which was very strange considering my personal and absolute knowledge that even a few thousand votes could not have dropped her average to an eight-point-six.

Later last night, at home, I found a reply to the above email. Someone calling himself Chino Griffith, Content Coordinator, had willingly written somewhat after normal office hours.

The contest ending on Friday & was removed from the website. Our winner had a higher rating when the voting ending but we are working on a solution.

Hmm. So, if it ended on Friday, why is there anything left to be worked out? And if it was removed from the website, how were 90,000 Norwegians able to access it after that time?!? I checked the main page of their website, and noted that the declaration of a winner had been removed. Maybe they really were going to reach some agreement with both my Marie and their "winner"? Right.

I developed a suspicion, soon confirmed when TheLoneOperative contacted me with his intelligence on Mr. Griffith's activities.

You see, as the individual upon whom responsibility for this online poll fell, Mr. Griffith was obligated to announce a winner Monday morning right after Mother's Day. But he took a shortcut. And a very reasonable one, it seemed. He checked the polls Friday afternoon before heading home, and on the basis of that information designed a proclamitory webpage for the site that could be easily uploaded when he got back into the office on Monday. The pack was so far behind this one entrant that it would take at least, say, seventy thousand votes of 10 to even make it a contest anymore. Considering the fact that fewer than four thousand votes had been cast in all the time the contest had been up, this seemed incredibly unlikely. Blame it on Norway. Or, better yet, me.

So, here was the dilemma. The company conducting this contest had neglected to announce any deadline, meaning that in the eyes of a court of law, votes would have to be counted right up to moment of announcement. Complicating this was the fact that this announcement came without anyone at the company checking the current status of the polls. The announcement of this other individual as the winner of the prize was also legally binding. Someone would have to be out 450 dollars, and maybe a job. Very sad. Unless, unless...

Yes, that is what they intended to do. They gathered hundreds of people to, as many times as necessary throughout the night, vote a "1" on my dear friend Marie's photograph. Twenty-two hours and approximately 25,000 votes later, they had succeeded in bumping Marie's rating back down to a seven-point-one. They placed the announcement of their candidate's "win" on their homepage once more.

TheLoneOperative's warning had reached me hours in advance, certainly enough time to intervene. But, while LoneOp categorically refuses me the right to quote him directly, his message stated essentially "I won't do anything about it unless you tell me to do so." I didn't. There didn't seem to be a point in conducting an ongoing ballot war over something like this, or one where the outcome would be so impossible to predict. But honestly, I think I just felt sorry for Chino Griffith.

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