Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night Winner: Data and Visualization

As our nation looks at the election results this evening - and now this early morning - there are many statements about who won and why. There are many answers to this questions - certainly from a social media perspective I noted on Content Nation the transformation of politics through the collaborative efforts of citizens and the use of easily embedded content helped to change the landscape of American politics - but for the major television networks clearly it was data and visualization tools that carried Election Night.

Election Night is The SuperBowl of politics, so it's not surprising that many of the high-tech content tools that make that sporting event enjoyable were present on major television networks - and then some. Many Americans are already familiar with CNN's John King mastery of the "Magic Wall," the two-handed touch screen that enables him to analyze election data at any number of levels with remarkable ease and clarity and to activate embedded graphics and videos. It's a toy that nobody else really has, a coup that gives CNN a technology advantage that is hard to find oftentimes in broadcast media. Not to be outdone, MSNBC tried to deal with an electoral map that hovered in mid-air and resembled a video action game display. Clearly a somewhat generation was on this network's mind, less focused on data and more on the landscape of content.

CNN slammed back an interview with video and musical artist Will-i-am, who had produced popular election videos circulated on YouTube and other outlets. Wil-i-am was blue-screened from two angles at his remote location in Chicago and made to appear as if he was standing holographically in the CNN studios as he was interviewed by correspondent Wolf Blitzer. John King came in with a hovering "Virtual Capitol" display that allowed him to analyze the impact of House and Senate races on the balance of Congressional power.Take that, SuperBowl field overlays!

In addition to these on-air twists of technology were the many online maps, charts and data tables that were updating throughout the night with remarkable reliablity. While the Internet was a little wobbly at times through the night for the most part every major political Web site was easily accessed and provided oodles of data to pore through on national and local elections. The embedding of many of these graphical tools in social media outlets emphasized how much major media outlets are moving towards content with data and user interaction features as a way to build their brands in the places that audiences appreciate their content the most.

The real question is, though, why more publishers aren't producing such content on a more regular basis to bolster their brands. Clearly data and data visualization tools are providing content that really engages audiences and provides major opportunities for sponsorship and co-branding. Some outlets took advantage of these opportunities on election night, but more publishers need to think more proactively about how to develop content that brings people not just text but data and visualization capabilities that tell a compelling story anywhere that people want it. Perhaps this election night has been very revolutionary from a political standpoint, but the real revolution in enabling highly engaging content through data and visualization tools for mass audiences has only just begun.
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