DataViz[zes] of the Week: Google Election Map Gallery
I’ve long argued that journalists use too many words. Or, more precisely, they try to use them for everything.
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a Microsoft Word and a deadline, everything looks like a 25-inch story.
Google’s just launched Elections ’08 Map Gallery illustrates the limitations of this approach.
Want to know how John McCain got to where he is today? You can read this four-screen, tiny-type piece at biography.com. It’s well-researched and full of important information and fair-minded observations. Or you can click around John McCain’s Journey, one of several maps in the gallery.
You will find a biography organized by geography (a geo-bio!), starting in the Panama Canal Zone (where he was born) to. . .1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (?). You won’t get much intellectually satisfying detail from the map–no Keating Five, no material about his days at the Naval Academy, nothing about his role as a “maverick.” If real journalism were poured into the framework, you’d have a great product that could reach a lot more people than the highly literate biography.com version.
Google, of course, knows from search. And so one of the more successful Election 08 maps is a geography of search queries by candidate name. [Earth to Mountain View: Hillary Clinton is out. You may remove her from the election maps now.]
Others have reported this search query data in print–it’s a fun [if dangerous] parlor game to use search volume as a marker of public sentiment. But once again, a visual, geography-based presentation that offers real-time search data offers a completely different view of election dynamics.
And finally, a video-based map, which essentially does away with both words and numbers. Obama Videos is a map showing where Obama delivered key speeches, with each location linked to a video of that speech.
This is great stuff. With Google’s mashup tools being wide open for use, the gallery is likely to grow and get weirder [A Map of Lies! The Flip Flop Highway!].
I, for one, think it’s going to be a much more entertaining election season thanks to these visualizations. Will it produce a better informed, more engaged public? We’ll see. There’s promise that some of these maps will capture different kinds of citizen participation–the “wisdom” of the crowds writ large. The Election Search map is an example.
One map shows real-time election-based Twitter items geographically. It’s about as exciting as watching gum being chewed. But it’s a start.