Fivethirtyeight.com

April 6, 2010

Fivethirtyeight.com is a political number-crunching sort of website ran by former Baseball Prospectus contributor and stat maven Nate Silver.

Silver first gained my attention through Prospectus, an annual publication that essentially analyzes most relevant players in organized baseball, along with collecting together a bunch of different essays that concern developments in the world of baseball statistical analysis.

He also developed PECOTA, a remarkably solid projection system for baseball players that is among the most accurate anywhere. This, I assure you, is relevant, because it’s essentially what fivethirtyeight is all about.

Silver gained national notoriety when he began his projections for the 20008 presidential election, counting as one of the few prominent voices out there claiming Obama had a chance to beat Hillary Clinton and win the entire thing. He did this, you might now assume, largely through the same kinds of mathematical projections he was using to tell fantasy baseball players he should draft, only this time drawing on political polls and historical voting trends instead of batting averages and minor league histories.

That Wall Street Journal article, written during the Democratic primary, explained the site’s appeal:

The site’s appeal, in this numbers-intensive election year, is its marriage of numerical analysis and spiffy charting, attaching an aura of certainty and order to what has been a chaotic Democratic primary.

Fivethirtyeight is an interesting website to follow because it can bring together a convergence of news and politics junkies hungry for any scraps of information and casual political observers who want a place that presents things rather simply and straightforwardly.

I like it in particular because I only like to wade out into those deep, murky waters of politics. I think Silver’s work at the website, with an emphasis on raw numbers and a sort of dispassionate approach, is appealing to me, because I don’t feel like I’m being spun anything. I’m given data, Silver’s interpretation of data, and then I’m left on my own to decide what it really means. If you’re just into politics/news a little bit, fiverthirtyeight is as good a place as any to visit and make sense of all the endless information out there.

And it doesn’t apply to elections. Silver combines jobs data, economic reports, developments in other countries, and countless other forms of data to ultimately make sense of the news for you, with facts and data that back it up, as opposed to the typical media bloviating, which is one aspect of the website I especially appreciate.

In this new media world, Silver has drawn a large audience because he gets it. He gets that people want more than mere opinion a lot of the time, even if the ratings for Fox News and MSNBC would suggest otherwise.  He gets there’s a market for simple, data-based reasoning. Fivethirtyeight is on Twitter, it’s a blog that’s updated regularly, and it brings in an audience that puts together one of the more thoughtful and engaging comment boards around.

Above all, he keeps it simple. I think a lot of time new media websites want to be everything, where fivethirtyeight succeeds because it is specifically meaningful and digestable concerning one thing.

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