Thursday, January 10, 2008

Playgrounds for Data: Inspiration from NYTimes.com Interactives

Making data usable ...

"I recently learned that there's a pattern to how the US Presidential candidates talk about each other during the televised debates. To distinguish themselves from their opponents, they'll often mention an opponent's name when stating how their position on an issue is different, even if the difference is minor.

For example, in one Republican Debate, Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney "politely" pointed out a small adjustment to what Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had just said, "I don't believe you had the finest record of any Governor in America on education." He then continued to point out his own successes.

I found it interesting that, in the debates leading up to the recent Iowa Caucuses, hardly any of the Republican candidates ever mentioned Governor Huckabee. Senator Barack Obama was mentioned many times by each of the Democratic candidates (and by the Republican Romney a few times, even though he wasn't even in the same debates). While both won the Iowa Caucuses, it seems the Democrats perceived Obama a greater threat than the Republicans considered Huckabee.

Even more interesting to me is that everyone, in almost every debate from both parties, talked about Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton. (In one Republican debate, Romney mentioned Clinton more than 5 times.) One could deduce that every campaign is thinking she's a threat.

Yet, perhaps the most interesting thing to me is not the data itself, but how I discovered it: in a flash-based interactive put together by the New York Times interactive team, called Naming Names. They analyzed the transcripts from the debate and created a clever little tool which shows who talked about whom.

Looking a bit like a Spirograph drawing toy, the designers put all the candidates in a circle. Under each candidate's name is a small bar code, with line widths representing the number of words the candidates spoke. Then they drew arrows to the opponents mentioned.

When you move your mouse over a candidate, the arrows for all of the opponents who mentioned them appear. It's an even distribution, until you move your mouse over Hillary Clinton's name and see the burst of discussion about her. It's not hard to deduce that both sides think she's the person to beat."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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