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How we tried to predict the rules

Chris Russell | 18:20 UK time, Tuesday, 16 May 2006

I'm proud to say that our World Cup Predictor was published on the night of the draw last December. But I now wonder whether we did it too soon!

The problem is that the rules for qualification Fifa told us last October, when we were building the application, are different to what is now on their site - bottom of page 40, artical 31.5, of this link if you're really interested.

So goal difference will be used to determine the order of teams in groups, as it has been in previous World Cups. We were originally told that Germany 2006 would follow the Champions League convention of using results between teams to sort out the order.

I know what you're saying now. "So what, it ought to be an easy change - just reorder the way it does it sums and off we go."

If only....

Forgive the clumsy analogy but the problem here is that under the serenely gliding swan (for want of a better expression) all sorts of crazy madness is paddling away, taking account of all sorts of rules and potential scenarios to predict the tournament.

We realised that one thing this tool couldn't do is give out any wrong answers - and I can't tell you how much time the team who put this together spent with the rules and their programming code.

I also refuse to estimate how many more hours were spent testing the thing. Often we used results of old World Cups to do this, and I'm told that under our the "new" rules they won't now use, it didn't actually change anything significant!

But that's no excuse. We can't afford to have it doing the wrong thing so we're now going to to rewrite key parts of the application to take account of this "change". Bear with us because this might take a few days, which just goes to show how in the world of websites and IT sometimes apparently simple things can turn out to be really big jobs.

This also raised an editorial question for us. Once we knew it was wrong we also had to make a judgement about whether we removed it from the site while we did the fix. I hope you agree that leaving it there with a clear message explaining what's wrong and a link to this fuller explanation is the right thing to do.

In the meantime we need to work out what this means for the prediction game we're running for our own staff in the office! We intend to use the Predictor for this, using the "email to a friend" to gather entries. When we do get it fixed I'll come back on here and explain how we're doing it.

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