A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Fivethirtyeight.com’s flaws so far

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The Fivethirtyeight.com site recently relaunched. With its connection to ESPN.com, it’s clear the site saw a chance to recreate Grantland’s success, with Nate Silver playing the Bill Simmons role as its creator and most read writer.

The site to me, has been a disappointment so far. Not to count it out. Like a basketball player or first time coach, it could very well break through its struggles and soon become great.

But so far there are problems, as have been noticed by others around the net. For an article priding itself on “Fox” like journalism using as much data as possible, the articles feel short with the evidence feeling awfully half baked. Sometimes relying on one or two research studies, which are never trustworthy on their own for sample size and possible confirmation bias by the researcher.

So what is going on here? I don’t doubt the work ethic or commitment to the site by Silver or its writers, many who have done greater work elsewhere.

On the surface, what it seems like to me is this. Fivethirtyeight.com looks like a site trying to be a “primer to understanding data” for those who are not used to it. In other words, instead of targeting at the heaviest of data and statistical nerds, they are targeting those who have a mild interest in statistics and showing them that it’s “fun and informative”.

The motive for this is clear. The number of people in the casually interested in data group far outweighs the already statistical nerds. By targeting the former they can reach a larger audience and become a more successful site.

But this is a delicate balance. By making an article more simplistic and mainstream-audience friendly, the writers may be leaving out crucial information to their subjects and not writing the best article they can. In other words, 538’s articles become poor man’s versions of what could’ve been great articles. They just feel incomplete.

Ultimately this will be a hard problem for Fivethirtyeight to fix, but many talented people and thinkers are involved in the site including Silver himself, so they have a chance. The site’s goals may not be the same as Grantland’s. Grantland has a commitment to well presented, through articles, that both challenge the reader but speak in a genuine, sincere tone. So far Fivethirtyeight isn’t even a shadow of Grantland’s quality.

Written by jr.

March 27, 2014 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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