by    in Market Research

A Look Inside the Ranker Data Tool

You may have looked through some of the more fascinating, insightful posts her on the Ranker Data Blog and thought… how can he possibly come up with some of these connections?

Well, to be perfectly fair, the Ranker data tool does a lot of the heavy lifting. It allows me to quickly look through topics that have received a lot of up or down votes on Ranker, and make quick comparisons to other topics easily.

And here’s a quick look at how it all works…

We start by picking a general category we want and a specific item (or “node” in this case) from that topic. So under the category of TV, I’m going to pick the item “Boardwalk Empire.”

Now the tool knows that I only want to look at people who voted on “Boardwalk Empire.” The next step involves the tool looking for correlations – that is, relationships between “Boardwalk Empire” votes and other votes cast on Ranker. I could compare votes cast for or against “Boardwalk Empire” with votes cast on pretty much any other subject – films, foods, people, gadgets… you name it. Sometimes, this can be very interesting, as in this post, where we correlated people’s taste in breakfast cereals vs. films and tv shows.

But for the sake of explanation, let’s look at a more direct comparison, which usually yields more interesting results. So we’ll compare votes on “Boardwalk Empire” to votes on other TV shows, to see how well we can predict what fans of HBO’s Prohibition drama might also enjoy on the tube.

The results are pretty standard, and really show off exactly what the tool can do. When searching “Boardwalk Empire” correlated with other TV shows, here’s what I see:

Those percentages to the right represent what we call the “Lift %,” which basically just means “how much more likely is a “Boardwalk Empire” fan to enjoy X show, over a random person who does not have an opinion about Boardwalk Empire”? I’d ask Ravi to explain it to you directly, but his answer would likely involve fractals, and I don’t want to put you through that.

Trust me on this part, though… The higher the Lift %, the MORE likely a “Boardwalk Empire” fan will also enjoy whatever show we’re discussing.

Keeping that in mind, most of the results seem fairly predictable and straight-forward. A “Boardwalk Empire” fan would naturally be likely to enjoy “The Shield” or “The Killing,” two different hard-edged crime dramas with occasionally similar themes. Similarly, “Deadwood” seems an obvious fit – both are violent HBO series exploring crime in different periods of American history. In fact, there’s really only two outliers that make this list kind of compelling… What the hell are “Thundercats” and “Police Squad!” doing there?

There’s probably a very reasonable explanation for this. Maybe a big chunk of people went to the “Boardwalk Empire” page and then immediately voted on their favorite ’80s cartoon series as well? It’s possible, but seems unlikely, as there aren’t any other animated shows in the Top 10 (or even 20!) of this group. Maybe people who like “Boardwalk Empire” – or crime shows more generally – also enjoy occasionally making light of a very serious subject by throwing on the adventures of Detective Frank Drebin of “Police Squad!” To investigate this, I’d probably look at a similar chart for the show “Police Squad!” and see if a lot of more serious crime fare appeared.

And what do you know? It does! Along with the expected other comedy series from the same era – “Welcome Back Kotter,” “WKRP in Cincinnati” and so on, sure enough we see that “Police Squad!” fans have also voted positively on “The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire” and even “Miami Vice.” We could certainly do more research to confirm, but this definitely points me towards a preliminary hypothesis – fans of crime shows don’t really differentiate between funny or serious content. They just like the topic of crime and criminals.

To keep investigating, I’d probably look at some other crime dramas and comedies to see if I also got similar results. If, say, “The Wire” fans also tended to enjoy “Pink Panther” movies, or fans of “Hackers” also cited “Sneakers” as a favorite film, we’d be on our way to a full-fledged theory. But that’s a blog post for a different day, kids. Now it’s time for bed.

– Lon