Posted by: structureofnews | May 6, 2011

Plotting Sentiment

Just a quick post to point to the New York Times’ interesting interactive visualization of sentiment regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. Rather than just get comments – or even take a (completely unscientific) reader poll – they instead got people to plot their reaction on a chart, in effect using the two axes to measure their feelings on two fronts.

We asked readers the following questions: Was his death significant in our war against terror? And do you have a negative or positive view of this event? Readers — 13,864 of them — answered by plotting a response on the graph and adding a comment to explain the choice.

Take a look at it: It’s a very neat way of giving a quick sense of how people feel.

OK, it’s true that this is just as equally unscientific as a reader poll.  And one commentator at Columbia Journalism Review argues that:

…this interactive graph is visually confusing. By drawing a horizontal line halfway between “Signifcant” and “Insignificant”, the designers of this interactive exercise seem to have confused many participants. Based on their comments, many readers who selected grid boxes near this horizontal line seem to have been voting for “Insignificant”, but did not recognize that the line represented something halfway between the two extremes.

Maybe it is.  But it’s not so much whether this visualization is perfect than it is the notion that, as we look for more interesting ways to engage readers and build communities with them, we need to think beyond words and even numbers; what’s great about this exercise is that it asks readers to think visually as well as in text.

Not to mention the aggregate result of all those comments is much more interesting – and much more informative – than 13,000 comments.

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