Sounds Interesting

Sounds Interesting

What do fans of Spotify and meat pies have in common?

Screen grab of the YouGov profiler for meat pies.

Kiss your lunchtime web surfing plans goodbye, because I guarantee that whatever page you were planning to visit next, you will instead want to go to YouGov.

We know that your musical taste tells everyone else an awful lot about your personality and lifestyle. However, the YouGov site goes a step further in this, and provides a publicly-available searchable database of how liking for a given cultural object correlates with demographics, such as age, sex, social class, political views, typical jobs, and monthly spare cash; lifestyle choices such as favourite foods, hobbies, sports, general interests, niche interests, and pets; personality factors; brand preferences; entertainment choices such as favourite movies, TV shows, and celebrities; favourite web sites, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages; and media usage, such as time spent online and newspaper readership.

The era of big data is beginning to have implications for our ability to predict liking for a range of cultural objects.

For example, the typical Spotify user, based on data from 2,218 people, is an upper class man aged 25-39 who lives in London. He has left-leaning political views; works in media, publishing, advertising, marketing, or IT; and has £500-£999 spare cash per month. He likes to eat chorizo and salsa; plays a musical instrument; enjoys cycling, archery, and video games; has niche interests in culture, exercise, and science and technology; and is most likely to have a cat as his pet.

In terms of personality he describes himself as geeky, clever, and funny, but can also be lazy, procrastinating, and withdrawn. His favourite brands include XBox 360, Dropbox, and Gumtree; he uses an online supermarket for food shopping; buys his clothes from relatively cheap fashion chains; and drives a VW. His favourite films are Gravity, Blue Velvet, and Twelve Monkeys; he enjoys watching The Office on TV; and takes an interest in Chris O’Dowd, Seth Rogan, and Ellen Page. On Twitter he follows DJs on alternate radio stations, and on Facebook he looks at the Arrested Development page. He is online over 50 hours a week, reads The Guardian, and watches TV for 1-5 hours per week (particularly Family Guy).

Of course the more niche you go so the smaller the sample on which the YouGov data is based, and the more cautious one must be in assuming that the profile is truly representative. Moreover, there is a clear lack of data even for major cultural phenomena - the profile for jazz fans is based on a sample of only 155 people - and the data appears to be valid for the United Kingdom only.

Nonetheless, the site works for almost any brand, TV show, or other cultural object you care to input. The 1,855 lovers of meat pies surveyed have moderate political views, work in engineering, are interested in science and particularly cars, regard themselves as knowledgeable, enjoy war films, and spend a lot of time online.

In the meantime the YouGov site illustrates one particular point wonderfully. Before the era of big data we believed that the inter-relationships between cultural preferences were esoteric, idiosyncratic, and very difficult to predict. The YouGov profiler indicates that they are anything but. I’m off now to find out what meat pie lovers have in common with jazz fans.

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