June 19, 2004

Mapping the News

stamen: google news is an interesting site using flash to visualize how news stories develop. By clicking on an item one can see the volume of news stories about the subject over the last few days. A nicely calm design that appeals to me as a newsjunkie and infographics addict.

This display is quite similar to something I have been thinking of myself for some time, a way of monitoring the growth and decay of threads in an online forum. But they got there first, and the result is inspirational.

The page also links to the newsmap, a graphically far more busy site. Unlike Stamen's map, this tries to show what news are big right now. This visualization is rather similar to the Marketmap. But while the stamen visualization and the marketmap are fairly calm, the newsmap blares information right at you. The large type headlines attract attention and makes the gaze jump around arbitrarily, and the changes in size strain focus. The "objective is to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media", but the main pattern seen is the relative size and the category of news, not what is linked to what.

In that respect the marketmap does much better, by having both horizontal and vertical divisions for the main fields. Once can at a glance see that finance and technology is bigger than health care and consumer cyclicals, what fields are growing and shrinking, find the top gainers and losers. This is a bit like the stamen plot.

(for some more interesting stock market visualizations and discussion of how to evaluate them, see Guidelines and Metrics for
3D Interactive Representations of Business Data
by Richard Karl Brath).

Overall, a good map of the news should not just show that is a hot, emerging story but how stories relate to each other. Ideally stories that have ties should be connected or nearby, helping to get an overview not only of what is big but where it fits in. Maybe this could be done by checking how many keywords that are used in both stories.

One of the best things about google news is that it allows one to experience news from many angles through different news agencies. It doesn't matter that most journalists just write their own version of the Reuters statement, it is the small differences that makes it fun to compare Xinhua , Al Jazeera, San Jose Mercury News and Reason. That tells one much about the world and the different outlooks. The newsmap allows one to switch between news from different areas, but it is still not very transparent. Maybe the next step ought to be to allow one to see the similarities between different news and the differences between the reporting of them, perhaps as some 2D clustering map. An interesting visualization challenge.

Posted by Anders at June 19, 2004 08:35 PM

Just a correction: the newsmap does allow you to compare different newssources - I just missed it when I wrote the original entry. It is a nice feature to see (say) the UK and US view side by side. But it is still hard to tell what news stories correspond to which (except when the headlines are standardized, of course). But it helps show the differences in relative coverage, which is already interesting.

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