The Times today reports on YouGov, the online polling company that has grown big in the UK (big enough for its founder, Stephan Shakespeare, to fund conservative online talk network 18DoughtySt to the tune of $2 million). It’s a sensible model: rather than polling the way pollsters have since the 1940s, online panels are used. The proof is in the predictions; if the data is good, why not gather it a new way?
But I think this should get opened up further. Two years ago, I wrote a post begging for someone to start an open-source polling operation: the wikipedia of polls. It would have controls against manipulation that enforce reliability — again, the proof is in the predictions. But it’s god’s work, for polling is too expensive and too limited to the powerful who want to ask their questions and too inaccurate about what we really care about. I say that if we could easily poll people about, say, indecency, we could counter the assertions of pressure groups that there’s an outcry — sufficient to threaten the First Amendment — when, in fact, there is no such outcry, only media spin and hype. Imagine if any of us could truly take the pulse of the nation or a community. That would have a positive impact on civil discourse and democracy — and commerce — and would be a counterweight to PR, political, and pressure-group spin.