by   Ranker
Staff
in interest graph, Market Research, Pop Culture

Hierarchical Clustering of a Ranker list of Beers

This is a guest post by Markus Pudenz.

Ranker is currently exploring ways to visualize the millions of votes collected on various topics each month.  I’ve recently begun using hierarchical cluster analysis to produce taxonomies (also known as dendograms), and applied these techniques to Ranker’s Best Beers from Around the World. A dendrogram allows one to visualize the relationships on voting patterns (scroll down to see what a dendrogram looks like). What hierarchical clustering does is break down the list into related groups based on voting patterns of the users, grouping like items with items that were voted similarly by the same users. The algorithm is agglomerative, meaning it is starts with individual items and combines them iteratively until one large cluster (all of the beers in the list)  remains.

Every beer in our dendrogram is related to another at some level, whether in the original cluster or further down the dendrogram. See the height axis on the left side? The lower the cluster is on the axis, the closer the relationship the beers will have. For example, the cluster containing Guinness and Guinness Original is the lowest in this dendrogram indicating these to beers have the closest relationship based on the voting patterns. Regarding our list, voters have the option to Vote Up or Vote Down any beer they want. Let’s start at the top of the dendrogram and work our way down.

Hierarchical Clustering of Beer Preferences

Looking at the first split of the clusters, one can observe the cluster on the right contains beers that would generally be considered well-known including Guinness, Sam Adams, Heineken and Corona. In fact, the cluster on the right includes seven of the top ten beers from the list. The fact that most of our popular beers are in this right cluster indicates that there is a strong order effect with voters more likely to select beers that are more popular when ranking their favorite beers. For example, if someone selects a beer that is in the top ten, then another beer they select is also more likely to be in the top ten. As we examine the right cluster further, the first split divides the cluster into two smaller clusters. In the left cluster, we can clearly see, unsurprisingly, that a drinker who likes Guinness is more likely to vote for another variety of Guinness. This left cluster is comprised almost entirely of Guinness varieties with the exception of Murphy’s Irish Stout. The right cluster lists a larger variety of beer makers including Sam Adams, Stella Artois and Pyramid. In addition, none of the beers in this right cluster are stouts as with the left cluster. The only brewer in this right cluster with multiple varieties is Sam Adams with Boston Lager and Octoberfest meaning drinkers in this cluster were not as brand loyal as in the left cluster. Drinkers in this cluster were more likely to select a beer variety from a different brewer. When reviewing this cluster from the first split in the dendrogram, there is clearly a defined split between those drinkers who prefer a heavier beer (stout) as opposed to those who prefer lighter beers like lagers, pilseners, pale ales or hefeweizen.

Conversely, for beers in the left cluster, drinkers are more likely to vote for other beers that are not as popular with only three of the top ten beers in this cluster. In addition, because of the larger size, the range of beer styles and brewers for this cluster is more varied as opposed to those in the right cluster. The left cluster splits into three smaller clusters before splitting further. One cluster that is clearly distinct is the second of these clusters. This cluster is comprised almost entirely of Belgian style beers with the only exception being Pliny the Elder, an IPA. La Fin du Monde is a Belgian style tripel from Quebec with the remaining brewers from Belgium. One split within this cluster is comprised entirely of beer varieties from Chimay indicating a strong relationship; voters who select Chimay are more likely to also select a different style from Chimay when ranking their favorites.  Our remaining clusters have a little more variety. Our first cluster, the smallest of the three, has a strong representation from California with varieties from Stone, Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam taking four out of six nodes in the cluster. Stone IPA and Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale have the strongest relationship in this cluster. Our third cluster, the largest of the three, has even more variety than the first. We see a strong relationship especially with Hoegaarden and Leffe.

I was also curious as to whether the beers in the top ten were associated with larger or smaller breweries. As the following list shows,  there is an even split between the larger conglomerates like AB InBev, Diageo, Miller Coors and independent breweries like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada.

  1. Guinness (Diageo)
  2. Newcastle (Heineken)
  3. Sam Adams Boston Lager (Boston Beer Company)
  4. Stella Artois (AB InBev)
  5. Fat Tire (New Belgium Brewing Company)
  6. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
  7. Blue Moon (Miller Coors)
  8. Stone IPA (Stone Brewing Company)
  9. Guinness Original (Diageo)
  10. Hoegaarden Witbier (AB InBev)

Markus Pudenz

by   Ranker
Staff
in Popular Lists

You Voted: Walmart Has the Worst Reputation

Walmart Food Drive

The news that a Walmart store in Ohio was holding a food drive to make sure that its own employees have enough food for the holidays struck a nerve with the Internet masses today. The story climbed to #1 on CNN Trends, spread quickly throughout the social media landscape and was mentioned by just about every mainstream media outlet–from Gawker, to Fox News to Business Insider.

Why the strong reaction? Many people though that Walmart is doing something “nice for humanity” by encouraging their employees to donate food to people who can’t afford it themselves. If only these people had jobs so they could afford it… oh that’s right, they do!

Despite being one of the richest companies in the world–they made $17 billion in profit last year–Walmart has been accused by many of failing to pay its workers a living wage, provide healthcare, or ensure that working conditions are safe. On the flip side, they do help billions of consumers worldwide stretch their paychecks by offering extremely low-priced goods.

WALMART LOGO

These are probably some of the reasons why so many users upvoted Walmart to the #1 spot on Ranker’s list of Companies With the Worst Reputations. (If there are others, feel free to leave them in the comment section of the list!)

Other heavy hitters on the list include:

BP-Logo
British Petroleum
 at #2, whose 2010 oil spill dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and pretty much ruined the local economy and ecosystem there.

Halliburton_Logo

Halliburton at #3, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s company that made billions of dollars from questionable deals related to the Iraq War.

Citigroup at #4, a financial institution so badly damaged by the financial crisis in 2008 that it had to be bailed out by the U.S. government 3 times . . . but was then able to pay its executives hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

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and Monsanto, at #5, a biotech corporation that has spent 20 years, millions of dollars and endless lawsuits against small farmers in an attempt to replace biodiversity with their own, patented GMO seeds. monsanto

 While the top 5 items on this list will continue to change as time goes by, corporations continue to screw things up, and you keep voting, it’s interesting to note how diverse the companies in these top 5 slots are. Ranker users are a mixed bunch–people from all over the world stop by to vote on lists about everything–from entertainment, science, politics, sports and much more. This diversity is reflected in the range of companies that users upvoted.  People who voted on this list care about issues ranging from workers rights, environmental, & social and economic inequality–a good representation of the most talked-about issues of our time!

If you haven’t already, head to the list of companies with the worst reputations and vote on which company you disagree with.

by   Ranker
Staff
in Trends

A Fall List That is Not to be Missed

The Best Things About Fall
This girl knows what we’re talkin’ about.

Good riddance summer! The weather is cooling, leaves are turning color (well, actually they don’t really do that here in LA) and we’re all planning which obscure pop culture reference we can turn into a Halloween costume this year.*

*Do you think I’d look good as a Sharknado?

To commemorate one of our favorite seasons here around the Ranker office, we’re loving this list of The Best Things About Fall. Autumn leaves are currently ranked #1 in the overall list, so we’re feeling a little left out–but Crisp Air, Comfy Clothes and Halloween are not too far behind.

We were curious about how people’s favorite things about fall differed depending on where they live, so we sorted the votes by geographic region and took a look at the data.

What People on the West Coast Most Love About Fall
What People on the West Coast Most Love About Fall

Turns out that us weather-obsessed West Coasters voted for 1) The Weather, 2) Crisp Air and 3) Comfy Clothes before 4) Autumn Leaves. In case you’re wondering, this chart was made by looking at the Top 10 items that people from the west coast voted on the most from this list. The size of the pie slices represent the number of upvotes each item got, as compared to the others.

Our friends in South voted slightly differently. Looks like they’re all about 1) Autumn Leaves, 2) Crisp Air, 3) Halloween and 4) The Weather. Check out the breakdown of their Top 10:

What Southerners Most Love About Fall
What Southerners Most Love About Fall

Well, it looks like we are definitely in agreement about the weather! But while us West Coasters are looking forward to snuggling in our comfy clothes, it looks like people from the South would rather be watching pro football or partaking in one of fall’s main holidays.

What about our readers from the east coast? (This may surprise you.)

What East Coasters Most Love About Fall
What East Coasters Most Love About Fall

They are the ones with the pretty autumn leaves and they barely even care! Our voters from the east coast most love 1) Comfy Clothes, 2) Halloween, 3) Pumpkin Pie and 4) The Weather! They’re also, apparently, really into their desserts. Anyone from the east coast have a recipe for apple crumble they’d like to share with us? We’re serious. Tell us in the comments or email feedback@ranker.com.

What about you? Be sure to visit the list: The Best Things About Fall and chime in while the fall season is still upon us.

by   Ranker
Staff
in Opinion Graph, Pop Culture, Rankings

Examining Regional Voting Differences with Ranker’s Polling Widget

Ranker has a new program where we offer a polling widget to partner sites who want the engagement of a poll in list format (as opposed to the standard radio button poll).  Currently, sites that use our poll (e.g. TheNextWeb or CBC) are seeing 20-50% of visitors engaging in the poll and an increase in returning visitors who want to keep track of results.  We also give partners prominent placement on Ranker.com (details of that here), but a benefit that is less obvious is the potential insights from one’s users that one can gain from the data behind a poll.  To illustrate what is possible, I’m going to use data from one of our regular widget users, Phish.net, who posted this poll on Phish’s best summer concert jams.

One piece of data that Ranker can give partners is a regional breakdown of voters.  Unsuprisingly, there were strong regional differences in voting behavior with voters from the northeast often choosing a jam from their New Jersey show, voters from the west coast often choosing a jam from their Hollywood Bowl show, voters from the south often choosing a jam from their Maryland show, voters from the midwest often choosing a jam from their Chicago show, and voters from the mountain region often choosing a jam from their show at The Gorge.  However, the interesting thing to me was that the leading jam in every region was Tweezer – Lake Tahoe from July 31st.  As someone who believes that better crowdsourced answers are produced by aggregating across bias and who has only been to 1 Phish concert, I’m definitely going to have to check out this jam.  Perhaps the answer is obvious to more experienced Phish fans, but the results of the poll are certainly instructive to the more casual music fan who wants a taste of Phish.

Below are the results of the poll in graphical format.  Notice how the shows cluster based on venue and geography except for Tweezer – Lake Tahoe which is directly in the center of the graph.

If you’re interested in running a widget poll on your site, the benefits are more clearly spelled out here and you can email us at “widget at ranker.com”.  We’d love to provide similar region based insights for your polls as well.

– Ravi Iyer

 

by   Ranker
Staff
in New Features

Updates to the Ranker Widget

Wickey, Wickey Widget! Welcome to The Ranker Widget 2.0. With the Ranker Widget, publishers can use Ranker’s tools to build unique, votable lists and publish them on their site. To date, over 1,600 third party websites have used Ranker’s widget to engage with their readers. Based on feedback from our users, we’ve just released an updated version that has some nifty new features.

What’s new?

1. Increased Options for Customization. There are a ton of new options for adjusting the look and feel of your widget. You can find customization options in the Size, Header, List and Footer tabs of the Customize panel.

Size.
Width: Choose one of three standard widths or write in your own custom width.

Height: Decide how many rows you would like to display at once. If you choose to display more rows than the amount of items on your list, they will all display at once.

Header.
You now have the option to show the list image, username and list criteria to your poll.

2. Social Share Buttons: Allow users to share your poll on through email, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ right on your site.

3. New List Stats Button: This new tab shows the number of voters, votes and items on your list. It also lists any reranks of your list by your users right there on your widget.

4. Users can more easily add new items to your list. If you’d like your readers to be able to add new items to a list in addition to voting on the items that are already there, you’re in luck. The new widget allows users to type in new list items right there at the bottom of your list.

by   Ranker
Staff
in New Features

Introducing the Ranker Partnership Program!

Today we are unveiling the new Ranker Partnership Program! Ranker is partnering with select publishers and individual experts who regularly create high-quality lists on our site. We will feature our Partner Lists in a new section of our homepage and throughout our category pages.

Partner Lists will also have added space for branding, a link back to their own site and an “Official Partner” verification checkmark next to their name.

While believing in the wisdom of crowds is kind of our thing here at Ranker, we will admit that sometimes some people do know more about some topics than others. Hey, I won’t ask you about your favorite Kombucha flavors if you don’t ask me about my favorite GPS fitness-tracking apps. Capiche?

But you know who I would ask about GPS apps? The good people over at The Next Web, who are experts on Internet technology. So when a noted authority on a certain topic (that has an active online community who can make our rankings more accurate) makes a list about a topic that they know a lot about, we thought it’d be nice to call that out.

For this reason, we are unveiling some nifty new features that distinguish expert Partner Lists from user-generated lists. Keep an eye out around the site for these new lists. You will recognize them by their “Official Partner” verified checkmark.

Trusted publishers and individual experts have been making lists on Ranker.com for awhile now and we added these new features to make their lists pop and to highlight their expertise.

Many of our partners use Ranker’s killer interface to create a poll on their topic of choice to host on their very own site. Embedding a list is super easy–just look for the “embed list” button in the footer of any new or pre-existing Ranker list.

If you’d like to be considered for our Partnership Program, send us a note. If you want more details, visit this short guide first. In general, our partners are publications or experts who have their own active online communities and some expertise in a certain subject. Most of our partners produce at least one piece of high quality content a month. And remember, since these lists will be featured on our homepage we tend to prefer partners who produce content that appeals to our broad, diverse online community.

By the way, you don’t have to be a partner to use our widget or enjoy Ranker.com. For most of our users, the new Partnership Program won’t change a thing!

by   Ranker
Staff
in Rankings

Rankings are the Future of Mobile Search

Did you know that Ranker is one of the top 100 web destinations for mobile per Quantcast, ahead of household names like The Onion and People magazine?  We are ranked #520 in the non-mobile world.  Why do we do better with mobile users as opposed to people using a desktop computer?  I’ve made this argument for awhile, but I’m hardly an authority, so I was heartened to see Google making a similar argument.

This embrace of mobile computing impacts search behavior in a number of important ways.

First, it makes the process of refining search queries much more tiresome. …While refining queries is never a great user experience, on a mobile device (and particularly on a mobile phone) it is especially onerous.  This has provided the search engines with a compelling incentive to ensure that the right search results are delivered to users on the first go, freeing them of laborious refinements.

Second, the process of navigating to web pages (is) a royal pain on a hand-held mobile device.

This situation provides a compelling incentive for the search engines to circumvent additional web page visits altogether, and instead present answers to queries – especially straightforward informational queries – directly in the search results.  While many in the search marketing field have suggested that the search engines have increasingly introduced direct answers in the search results to rob publishers of clicks, there’s more than a trivial case to be made that this is in the best interest of mobile users.  Is it really a good thing to compel an iPhone user to browse to a web page – which may or may not be optimized for mobile – and wait for it to load in order to learn the height of the Eiffel Tower?

As a result, if you ask your mobile phone for the height of a famous building (Taipei 101 in the below case), it doesn’t direct you to a web page.  Instead it answers the question itself.

That’s great for a question that has a single answer, but an increasing number of searches are not for objective facts with a single answer, but rather for subjective opinions where a ranked list is the best result.  Consider the below chart showing the increase in searches for the term “best”.  A similar pattern can be found for most any adjective.

So if consumers are increasingly doing searches on mobile phones, requiring a concise list of potential answers to questions with more than one answer, they naturally are going to end up at sites which have ranked lists…like Ranker. As such, a lot of Ranker’s future growth is likely to parallel the growth of mobile and the growth of searches for opinion based questions.

– Ravi Iyer

by   Ranker
Staff
in Data Science, prediction

Combining Preferences for Pizza Toppings to Predict Sales

The world’s most expensive pizza, auctioned for $4,200 as a charity gift in 2007, was topped with edible gold, lobster marinated in cognac, champagne-soaked caviar, smoked salmon, and medallions of venison. While most of us prefer (or can only afford to prefer) more humble ingredients, our preferences are similarly diverse.  Ranker has a Tastiest Pizza Toppingslist that asks people to express their preferences. At the time of writing there are 29 re-ranks of this list, and a total of 64 different ingredients mentioned. Edible gold, by the way, is not one of them.

Equipped with this data about popular pizza toppings, we were interested in finding out if pizzerias were actually selling the toppings that people say that they want. We also wanted to see if we could predict sales for individual ingredients by looking at one list that combined all of the responses about pizza topping preferences. This “Ultimate List” contains all of toppings that were listed in individual lists (known as re-ranks) and is ordered in a way that reflects how many times each ingredient was mentioned and where they ranked on individual lists. Many of the re-ranks only list a few ingredients, so it is fitting to combine lists and rely on the “wisdom of the crowd” to get a more complete ranking of many possible ingredients.

As a real-world test of how people’s preferences correspond to sales, we used Strombolini’s New York Pizzeria’s list of their top 10 selling ingredients. Pepperoni, cheese, sausage and mushrooms topped the list, followed by: pineapple, bacon, ham, shrimp, onion, and green peppers. All of these ingredients, save for shrimp, are included in the Ranker lists so we considered the 9 overlapping ingredients and measured how close each user’s preference list was to the pizzeria’s sales list.

To compare lists, we used a standard statistical measure known as Kendall’s tau, which counts how many times we would need to swap one item for another (known as a pair-wise swap) before two lists are identical. A Kendall’s tau of zero means the two lists are exactly the same. The larger the Kendall’s tau value becomes, the further one list is from another.

The figure shows, using little stick people, the Kendall’s tau distances between users’ lists, and the Strombolini’s sales list. The green dot corresponds to a perfect tau of zero, and the red dot is the highest possible tau (if two lists are the exact opposite of the other). The dotted line is provided as a reference to show how likely each Kendall’s tau value is by chance (that is, how often different Kendall’s tau values occur for random lists of the ingredients). It is clear that there are large differences in how close individual users’ lists came to the sales-based list. It is also clear that many users produced rankings that were quite different from the sales-based list.

Using this model, the combined list came out to be: cheese, pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, sausage, onion, pineapple, ham, and green peppers. This is a Kendall’s tau of 7 pair-wise swaps from the Strombolini list, as shown in the figure by the blue dot representing the crowd. This means the combined list is closer to the sales list than all but one of the individual users.

Our “wisdom of the crowd” analysis, combining all the users’ lists, used the same approach we previously applied to predicting celebrity deaths using Ranker data. It is a “Top-N” variant of the psychological approach developed in our work modeling decision-making and individual differences for ranking lists, and has the nice property of naturally incorporating individual differences.

This analysis is a beginning example of a couple of interesting ideas. One is that it is possible to extract relatively complete information from a set of incomplete opinions provided by many people. The other is that this combined knowledge can be compared to, and possibly be predictive of, real-world ground truths, like whether more pizzas have bacon or green peppers on them.  It may never begin to explain, however, why someone would waste champagne-soaked caviar on pizza, as a topping.

by   Ranker
Staff
in Data Science, Market Research, Opinion Graph, Pop Culture

Why We Still Play Board Games: An Opinion Graph Analysis

It’s hard reading studies about people my age when research scientists haven’t agreed upon a term for us yet. In one study I’m a member of “Gen Y” (lazy), in another I’m from the “iGeneration” (Orwellian), or worse still, a “Millennial” (…no). You beleaguered and cynical 30-somethings had things easy with the “Generation X” thing. Let the record reflect that no one from my generation is even remotely okay with any of these terms. Furthermore, we all collectively check out whenever we hear the term “aughties”.

I’m whining about the nomenclature only because there’s a clear need for distinction between my generation and those who have/will come before/after us. This isn’t just from a cultural standpoint (although calling us “Generation Spongebob” might be the most ubiquitous touchstone you could get), but from a technical one. If this Kaiser Family Foundation study is to be believed (via NYT), 8-18 year olds today are the first to spend the majority of their waking hours interacting with the internet.

Yet despite this monumental change, there are still many childhood staples that have not been forsaken by an increasingly digital generation. One of the most compelling examples of this anomaly lies in board games. In a day and age where Apple is selling two billion apps a month (Apple), companies peddling games for our increasingly elusive away-from-keyboard time are still holding their own. For example, Hasbro’s board-and-card game based revenue grew to $1.19b dollars over the course of the last fiscal year (a 2% gain from last year).

What drove this growth? Hasbro’s earnings reports primarily accredits this growth to three products: Magic: The Gathering, Twister, and Battleship. All of these products have been mainstays of their line-up for quite some time (prepare to feel old: if Magic: The Gathering was a child, it could buy booze this year), so what’s compelling people to keep buying? Fortunately, Ranker has some pretty in-depth data on all of these products, based on people who vote on it’s best board games list, which receives thousands of opinions each month, as well as voting on other Ranker lists.

Twister’s continuous sales were the easiest to explain: users who expressed interest in the game were most likely to be a fan of other board games (Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly and so forth). Twister also correlated with many other programs/products with fairly universal appeal (Friends, Gremlins). This would seem to indicate that the chief reason for Twister’s continued high sales lies in its simplicity and ubiquity. The game is a cultural touchstone for that reason: more than any other game on the list, it’s the one hardest to picture a childhood without.

Battleship’s success lies in the same roots: our data shows great overlap between fans of the game and fans of Mouse Trap, Monopoly, etc. But Battleship has attracted fans of a different stripe, interest in films such as Doom, Independence Day, and Terminator were highly correlated with the game. In all likelihood, this is due to the recent silver-screen adaptation of the game. Although the movie only faired modestly within the United States, the film clearly did propel the game back into the public consciousness, which translated nicely into sales.

Finally, Magic: The Gathering’s success came from support of another nature. Interest in Magic correlated primarily with other role-play and strategy games (Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Heroscape). Simply put, most fans of Magic are likely to enjoy other traditionally “nerdy” games. The large correlation overlap between Magic and other role-playing games is a testament to how voraciously this group consumes these products.

The crowd-sourced information we have here neatly divides the consumers of each game into three pools. With this sort of individualized knowledge, targeting and marketing to each archetype of consumer is a far easier task.

– Eamon Levesque