I am not a fan of the prediction market business. I know that many game and social theorists think they're valuable predictors of crowd behavior, but I've seen too many prediction start-ups turn into intellectual wastelands, with a few people controlling the "price" of opinions that are either pointless on the face of it, or bizarrely tilted in one direction or the other.
So I took Parker Barrie's recent pitch for a new feature on Predictify with a grain of salt. On Wednesday, the company is launching a prediction market for the U.S. presidential election, called the Election Showdown. Users will be able to enter their predictions for the election outcomes in 14 battleground states, and the most accurate users will, after the election results are in, divide a pot of $100,000.
Upon hearing this, my hackles rose. Users may predict one thing but vote another, I said, especially when money enters the process. To which Barrie had an answer that rescued the concept for me: "When you ask people to predict what will happen, you separate them from their personal biases and make them consider additional information."
The Election Showdown feature is not, I'm led to believe, so much about predicting the election results as it is about making people think about predicting the election results. "We provide a forum to research, discuss, and predict what you think will happen," Barrie said. And anyway, "We don't position Predictify as precisely accurate as to what will happen." There are polls for that, I guess.
Over the past year, since I first covered the company, Predictify has in fact shifted its focus from providing precise predictions to creating a platform for community engagement. That works for me. I still don't like prediction markets. But I do like sites that encourage people to think in new ways.
See also: The Journal of Prediction Markets.