EXCLUSIVE: The inside story of how four techs broke open triple j's Hottest 100
Who's saying what
As I sit with the team two days before the countdown, the trio are relatively sanguine, even if Drewe occasionally shows nerves when tallying the possibilities.
“I reckon I’d just be happy if we got a mention on the day,” Murphy says, crossing his legs. “I thought they’d send an email, or something.”
“I half feel like [our prediction is] completely off,” Knox adds, before laughing, “and then I have these crazy visions of triple j panicking and doing something to change the vote at the last minute.”
Regardless, questions remain over how representative the data might be. Are Facebook and Twitter users in particular an accurate barometer of the overall triple j listenership? For much of the group’s data scrapes, Of Monsters and Men’s ‘Little Talks’ was in number one position, but in the final tally it succumbed by a considerable margin to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s ‘Thrift Shop’. This perhaps raises questions not only over the accuracy of the Warmest 100 sample, but also the Hottest 100 voting process. Were many voters merely being completists by entering ten votes? According to the Warmest figures, that method was by far the most popular way to file an entry.
Drewe explains he is interested in the science of their prediction, but the Warmest 100 has been more about getting exposure for an interesting project than trying to correctly blow the lid off the Hottest 100; certainly not to piss off triple j and its army of listeners. “I think we’ve had a few tweets with our names in articles and stuff,” he says. “I tried to mention as many names as possible in all the interviews I’ve done, just to try to get everyone on board. I’ve always tried to give Tom as much credit as possible for both the sites. My LinkedIn’s been popping pretty hard over the last couple of days. But apart from that, it would be good to have it as a résumé piece. That’s what we all talked about.”
Once Thelander finally had the opportunity to implement Murphy’s artwork earlier this week, the Warmest 100 now looks like it's meant to: crisp, intuitive and popping with demonstrative colour. It’s a slick piece of web design. Whether the figures it contains are just as impressive, Drewe, Knox, Murphy and Thelander can now only wait and see.
It’s an awful Australia Day in Brisbane. Driving sheets of rain slew across the city as ex-Cyclone Oswald bears down on Southeast Queensland.
I make my way through town as the Hottest 100 begins its final slow crawl into the Top 10. Nick Drewe has been ensconced all day at a party in the inner-western suburb of Taringa – not that he’s exactly been in a festive mood: since the start of the countdown the 25-year-old has been live tweeting the results, comparing Warmest 100 predictions with the results streaming over the airwaves from triple j HQ.
When I get to the party, Drewe is standing apart from the others, tapping away furiously at his iPad. There’s a slightly manic vibe about him compared to Thursday. “I should have just brought my laptop,” he says. “I was trying not to be unsociable, but that didn’t really work.” It’s clearly been a long day—there’s half-eaten food and empties dotted about the place—and the other partygoers eyeball him curiously.
Drewe in party mode
Some of the Warmest 100’s early predictions were well off the mark. The team had anticipated this, but it didn’t stop the cheap shots piling on over Twitter: “Haha warmest 100 hasn't got any of their predictions correct yet sucked in,” wrote one follower. “I knew 2.7% of the vote wasn't enough to conclusively predict a majority of the countdown so far,” said another.
“Yeah, it got me down a little,” Drewe says. “I texted something to you, and Jack and Tom as well.” But David Quach remained a positive voice: “David told us we were doing great. And by the time the Top 30 came around we were receiving a lot of support.” Indeed, as the Hottest 100 moved into the late afternoon, the Warmest 100’s swinging needle began to settle, just as Quach—and many other statisticians—had predicted.
As the countdown moves into the Top 10, Drewe is in high-spirits. His initially dry, informative tweets have loosened up throughout the day, winning him a stack of new fans. Entries twelve to nine have all been predicted correctly, and while eight to four aren’t bang on, the fact that they’re still in the top ten is enough for the Warmest 100 team.
I look over Drewe’s shoulder as alt-J (∆)'s ‘Breezeblocks’ is announced at number three. He grins animatedly, tweets furiously. It means the team’s predictions for the top two spots will almost certainly be correct. Sure enough, Of Monsters and Men’s ‘Little Talks’ is announced at number two and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s ‘Thrift Shop’ at number one, confirming the Warmest 100’s predictions.
Click here to open a live spreadsheet comparing the Hottest 100 results with the Warmest 100 predictions
“Well, that’s more or less exactly the way I expected it to turn out,” Drewe says, shrugging. He’s playing it casual, but right now his easy smile is particularly conspicuous. We sit down at a dining table strewn with half-eaten food and sweating sauce bottles to discuss the results. “We never expected it to be something where we got every single song right,” Drewe says. “It wasn’t about that. All the feedback we’d had predicted that would be case.”He shows me some of the statistics from the website. They’re impressive: despite the negativity that surrounded the site at the start of the countdown, the Warmest100.com.au has attracted 30,000 unique visitors throughout the day -- matching the figures from when their story first broke. And as the countdown neared its end, triple j finally began to acknowledge the Warmest team, with presenters Marc Fennell and Tom [Ballard] and Alex [Dyson] communicating with Drewe via Twitter.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for Drewe and the many triple j listeners who took an interest in the Warmest 100 is the power of statistics. Following the success of Nate Silver’s predictions of the recent United States presidential election—predictions that ran contrary to those of many of the top political pundits—many on the opposite side of the Pacific woke up to the power of numbers. Drewe likes to think that the Warmest 100’s done something similar in Australia, if on a much smaller scale.
“Certainly, to the Australian 18-35 year old demographic that reads TheVine, Sydney Morning Herald and listens to triple j,” he laughs. “But I’m way more interested in stats now than I was before. And it’s not going anywhere—this whole ‘big data’ thing—with the amount of information out there and the increasing number of ways we can use it. It’s just up to people to take that information and process it and turn it into something useful.”
Still, the biggest question on the average Australia Day partygoer’s mind was if Drewe, Knox, Murphy and Thelander had made any money from the project. “People keep asking if we regret not making any money,” Drewe says as I get up to leave, “but it was never going to be worth that. Yeah, we could have made maybe $500 from it via AdSense, but we prefer to let the work speak for itself and turn it into other opportunities.”
They didn’t even put a bet on.
Matt Shea (@mrmatches)