In Visualization

How do you visualize a lot of things happening all at once? With all the hoopla about real-time analytics, the Internet of Things and cloud computing, how could you distill an actionable story from all the bytes floating around us?

For example, consider audience reactions during presidential debates. During past debates, CNN has displayed something call the People Meter, which consists mainly of a running line chart tracking real-time changes in audience approval based on candidate statements. (Search the Internet for “CNN People Meter” to learn more.)

Tinklepaugh-CNN-People-MeterIn this screen capture from a CNN presidential debate, we watch how audience perception fluctuates according to gender, income level and political affiliation as candidates address various topics. CNN was measuring perception of the crowd. But that perception did not reflect sentiment of a population for very long once the topic changed. It was a high level aggregate of perceptions relating to various topics in the debate.

For the upcoming presidential primary season, let’s say that a candidate’s campaign staff wants to be more savvy and measure sentiment in individual states on a given issue or word. Then, they could guide their candidate with word suggestions to use not just in debates but throughout the campaign. This would allow the staff to identify patterns of the largest spike in perception that creates positive sentiment among all states while minimizing negative spikes, in real time. The end result would be their candidate connecting with more people more than their opponent

Recently my friend and data scientist Zaid Tashman proposed a way a campaign might accomplish this. He drew some time series charts attached to a dendogram (tree) and mentioned how it allows users to quickly compare many lines of data by seeing differences of distance within and between groups.

So what would this tool look like? Tashman suggested using use spark lines that are colored by cluster as the time series charts with the dendogram. After he explained it, I made this prototype user interface that allows the user to perceptually discern groups with similar responses to the hashtag #syria used across multiple social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+). I also followed the advice of a visual designer I know, Bob Farrigan, and included a choropleth map.


Together, the dendogram and the states would update in real time to reflect usage of the hashtag #syria during presidential primaries.

The problem of course would be that only posts that include location data from the user could be considered. Still, this approach should yield more insight for campaign staff than the CNN People Meter.

Decreasing Saccadic Eye Movements

So scientists and designers may ask why I put the dendogram on the right when it traditionally goes on the left. This was my attempt to decrease visual scanning (eye saccade)

Tinklepaugh-visual-scanThe dendogram become one more thing my brain must process as I learn how the user interface elements inform each other. If the dendogram is on the left then all I’m doing is considering abstract distances without context. Putting it on the right decreases visual intake and processing, allowing users to understand the data faster.

From a neurological level, another reason to put the dendogram on the right  is that it changes in time. The feint grey lines cue the user where to look. Experiments by Ogden and Niessen in 1978 show that a cue, once shown, makes users faster at moving their eyes to the target.

Also, we read timelines and sentences from left to right, so I arranged the information from left to right. As I scan from left to right through states, spark lines and dendogram, the information that maximizes understanding is presented first.

A Question for You

If you were the campaign worker, would you propose this hashtag tool to your candidate?

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