Exclusively from Cambridge: The importance of being last

29 March 2010 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Is winning in competitions or job interviews down to sheer ability of the contestants or does the order in which contestants perform also play a significant role? Lionel Page and Katie Page, the researchers from the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge and the Heythrop College at the University of London respectively, seem to have an answer to this somehow intriguing question.

The analysis of data from over 150 shows worldwide in the X-Factor and Idol series led the researchers to suggest that irrespective of ability contestants performing in the later positions are less likely to be eliminated in the following rounds. While, contestants that performed in the early and intermediary positions are more likely to be subject to elimination. It also appears that the first performer is less likely to be eliminated than either the second or third placed contestants.

According to Dr Lionel Page, one of this study’s authors, “in a job interview process a very good applicant who is the second or third interviewee seen, may be less likely to get the job because he/she is less likely to be remembered than the later candidates. This is both unfair for the candidate and inefficient for the organisation which may not select the best candidate for the post. It really does appear that the last shall be first”.

The results of this study show that two mechanisms, memory and direct comparison, both play a significant role in the evaluation of people’s performance. Memory-wise both primacy and recency effects are implicated when sequentially evaluating performance. With respect to the primacy effect, people who perform first are more likely to be positively evaluated than those who come in second and third positions. Whereas, a strong recency effect is implied in that people who perform in last positions have the largest advantage with respect to positive evaluations. Also, the authors of this study provide compelling evidence on the importance of a direct comparison effect with the previous contestant. More specifically, the evaluation of one participant’s performance is influenced by the evaluation of the previous participant’s performance. For example, a person performing after a weak contestant is more likely to be evaluated less favourably than a person performing after a strong contestant. There is also strong evidence that people put more effort and motivation into their performance after having witnessed the previous performance and this in turn results in the evolution in contestants’ actual performance rather than the change in the judges’ criteria.

While more research in this subject remains to be done, it raises important questions about the fairness of any competition’s evaluation process and the efficiency of the judges.

More detailed information about this interesting research can be found in the Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organisation.

Cambridge researchers give privacy scores to social networking sites

26 March 2010 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Researchers from the Computer Laboratory’s Security Group at the University of Cambridge have just published the results of their privacy survey of 45 popular social networking (SN) sites from all over the world. The expertise and research findings of this group, led by Ross Anderson, has previously made headlines in the ZDnet, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Mirror and the Register, and has been shown on Newsnight.

More than 200 criteria related to privacy policies and privacy controls were used by Cambridge researchers to evaluate 45 SN sites. Examples of criteria include:

  • the amount of data collected during sign up
  • the default privacy settings
  • whether information is routinely shared with third parties

SN sites have previously been criticised in the press for their privacy practices and so not surprisingly the academics found strong evidence that the SN market is not providing users with adequate privacy controls. However, the survey results also indicate a lot of variation in quality of SN sites. Bebo, LinkedIn and GaiaOnline were found to have the best privacy practices of all, while Badoo, CouchSurfing and MyLife were found to have the weakest. Arguably the most popular in the SN community, Facebook and MySpace, were found to have privacy controls of mediocre quality, but these two sites have also more features than other SN site and so it is harder to maintain their privacy. Furthermore, most sites were found to have very confusing and difficult to access privacy settings and among that cohort Facebook with its 61 privacy settings was the worst. Ironically, the survey found that sites that made privacy a selling point tended to have lower-quality privacy controls.

A major privacy problem with SN sites is they consistently hide accessible privacy information for users in order to reduce privacy salience for marketing purposes and instead advertise the benefits of disclosing personal data through connecting with friends, meeting new people and sharing pictures. However, the data also suggests that sites may have evolved specifically to communicate differently to users with different levels of privacy concern.

Overall, more popular SN sites have more resources to devote to the problem of privacy and they are more often scrutinised in the media over protection of user data than their less known counterparts and so their privacy controls are better maintained. Cambridge researchers believe that by revealing the privacy practices of all sites more pressure will be put on major sites to add further protections for users and less popular sites will also realise that good protection of their users’ data may lead to higher growth.

Cambridge Ideas: 181-year-old rowing match and high performance business teams

22 March 2010 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

As the Oxford and Cambridge rowing squads are now in training for the Boat Race in London on the 3rd of April 2010 and the Cambridge Science Festival is drawing to a close, University of Cambridge has released a video in which Mark de Rond, a reader in strategy and organisation at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School and a consultant to a number of large global organisations, talks about his two years long organisational ethnographic research with the Cambridge University Boat Club and what lessons business teams can learn from a 181-year-old rowing match between two of the world’s oldest universities in order to achieve high-performance.

The findings of de Rond’s study, which have been published in Harvard Business Review in 2008 (Volume 86, Issue 9, p. 28), indicate that it is not always the strongest rowers that make the fastest boat, but more importantly it is social intelligence and talent for coordinating with other team members that is crucial to winning. My personal experience of rowing for the University of Cambridge’s Darwin College confirms de Rond’s claims. I have sat in many different boats and competed in many races with crew members of both genders and with mixed skills and aspirations and I found that the teams that are true winners are the ones whose oarsmen and oarswomen know one another’s strengths and weaknesses and compete as a whole rather than a sum of individual parts.

One of the techniques that the Cambridge Boat Club uses to select the the strongest and the most cooperative oarsmen for its first boat is seat racing. In first round of seat racing two four-man teams of similar boat-moving abilities race each other over a 1,500 meter long straight, then each team swaps one rower and competes again over the same distance, the seat racing continues with two different rowers swapping places until all combinations of rowers have been tested. The whole point of this excercise is to test each rower’s ability to cooperate with someone who is first a friend and then a competitor.

de Rond believes that the principles of competition and cooperation from rowing apply in the business world and advises organisations to test the level of performance of their business teams by dividing each team into two groups and setting them some problem-solving excercises and then swapping members between both teams to identify the winning combination of people. Although running this excercise requires some time and effort initially, companies will be in a good position to identify their strongest and most cooperative team and this in turn may lead to exhibiting higher growth and more satisfied customers.

Facebook beats Google to top place

17 March 2010 by Yvonne Conway  
Filed under Social marketing

According to Hitwise, Facebook has now replaced Google as the top visited website in the United States for the week March 7th – 13th.

If you were unconvinced about the popularity and power of social networking, this one fact alone should convince you otherwise. This amazing trend is set to continue if the numbers are to be believed. Comparing the increase in Facebook visits year on year to those of Google, Facebook comes out on top with a whopping 185% increase in site visits. Google’s year on year increase seems insignificant in comparison at a modest 9%.

This new success for social networking follows on from last year’s triumph over personal email accounts. Social networking sites became the most popular way to send personal email, taking over from the likes of Yahoo! Gmail and Hotmail.