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12/24/2007
10:28 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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Campaign Visualizations: The Bad and the Ugly

I wrote last week about a set of New York Times campaign visualizations that caught my eye. They met my "good" criteria: data-appropriate, designed to communicate rather than (merely) show off. The good is often contrasted with the bad and the ugly. Let's check out examples and then look at a TIBCO-Spotfire demonstration site.

I wrote last week about a set of New York Times campaign visualizations that caught my eye. They met my "good" criteria: data-appropriate, designed to communicate rather than (merely) show off. The good is often contrasted with the bad and the ugly. Let's check out examples and then look at a TIBCO-Spotfire demonstration site.

The Bad: A Map of the Political Blogosphere from Linkinfluence, a company that "engineers mapping, monitoring, and analytics solutions for the social web." I read about the site in Matthew Hurst's Data Mining blog. Matthew writes, "I believe that they have put plenty of effort in to the design of the data visualization and the overall look and feel to really make the site stand apart from others in this space."The Linkinfluence site does stand apart as an unusually pretty picture, seemingly overflowing with information. It makes me think of a star chart, with added interactivity that allows you to explore constellations of links between nodes and other, influencing/influenced nodes. Yet the site has absolutely no explanation how blogs are classified as Progressive, Independent, Conservative, or Mass Media or how nodes are positioned or sized. Most important, the site gives no indication how blog connectedness is related to influence or even what a particular, mapped entry had to say about candidates or their positions. Look at the map: what does it mean that techcentralstation.com and burningtorangereport.com are in antipodal positions and that austinbay.net is the closest node to the first of these? What is an "authority degree" or a "xeno degree" used to size nodes? A Google search on "xeno degree" turned up no hits, none at all. A site like Linkinfluence's is a poor communications tool. It seems little more than a pretty, interactive picture-toy.

The Ugly: that would be the US08 Media Watch application at ECOresearch.net, an Austrian project that "brings together scientists of different disciplines to explore the design and evaluation of new media applications that advocate sustainability and the protection of natural ecosystems." I'd desperately like to like the application, which provides linked semantic, ontological, and geographical maps of documents and the political terms they contain and the interrelationships of those documents and terms. You can search different types of sources for documents containing terms of your choosing and then visualize the location of identified documents in the semantic and geographical maps. This is a nifty application, yet its downfall is that is decontextualizes. The application is so focused on documents and terms and inter-node linkages that it neglects the whole, the "big picture."

Explore these sites and then try TIBCO's Spotfire Holiday Gift Finder, which is introduced by a cute animation that shows why it's time for Shopping 2.0, namely via guided, visual exploration and analysis. The Spotfire site has you shopping for consumer goods described by price, category, and rating. You get linked navigation/selection, data visualization, and selection-list panes, the latter containing product descriptions and Amazon.com hyperlinks for purchase of individual items. The application nicely demonstrates adaptation of visualization to shopping "workflow." You have context and potential usefulness rather than showiness without depth (the bad) or richness absent greater purpose (the ugly).


Seth Grimes is an analytics strategist with Washington DC based Alta Plana Corporation. He consults on data management and analysis systems.

I wrote last week about a set of New York Times campaign visualizations that caught my eye. They met my "good" criteria: data-appropriate, designed to communicate rather than (merely) show off. The good is often contrasted with the bad and the ugly. Let's check out examples and then look at a TIBCO-Spotfire demonstration site.

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