May 1, 2010

The Soslimited FuturEverything election debate remix in pictures

I try my best to hide my inner geek, but I still literally wet myself when the More Or Less people come onto the radio to analyse the numbers bandied about by party leaders.

Because elections are all about analysis, whether it's body language, figures to cut the deficit, or whether to mark a cross or scrawl a picture of your genitals across the ballot paper.

On Thursday, American election debate remixers Sosolimited turned their surreal take on politics onto our own party leaders. Hosted by FuturEverything, Prime Numerics was a live stream of the third election debate funneled into the People's History Museum in Manchester and mashed up into a bewildering array of data visualisation.

And so, through 15 fuzzy mobile phone pictures, here is a run-down of the third election debate:

The way it worked was this: everything Gordon, "Dave" and Nick said was typed and fed into a massive machine. That might be simplistic: there was no "massive machine". Anyhoo, here, you can see their words appearing:

Quite simple, really. Whenever a party leader mentioned a certain keyword, perhaps one that indicated caution or bravura or anger, an alarm went off.

Their words were also reduced to the lowest common denominator, with key election soundbite words highlighted. Here's Nick taking about tax. His sound and image got fainter until he mentioned a concrete keyword, when the visual snapped into clarity once more.

And the more they spoke, the more data could be gathered about how many times they mentioned certain topics. Here's the data analysis of the number of times each party leader mentioned, um, sex or things to do with sex. It even searched for the word 'titties'.

The visualisations were sometimes very mathematical. In the picture below, you can see keywords shooting across a plane defined by the intensity of the television picture. That grey graph lump in the middle is probably Gordon Brown's face,

And here we have more analysis, with the green numbers indicating the most commonly used words. Throughout the evening, when a new leader spoke, their respective data set rumbled to the front of the screen.

It wasn't all geeky. At one point, they reduced the whole debate to photographs captured in endlessly shifting bubbles.

And they turned each leaders' words in to massive pixels, which became smaller as they populated their screen with words. This is the television screen (a beige-coloured person in the middle surrounded by the lilac of the BBC set) rendered into large pixels - as more words were added, the definition would increase and the picture became clearer.

Oh and they were redacted, scandal style.

There were many surreal moments. I think in all, we had about 12 modes of visualisation. Here's Gordon Brown disappearing in the polls. (That was my attempt at satire. People often call me the new Rory Bremner.)

It seemed Gordon Brown won most things on the night. He used lots of long words, he talked about key issues the most. Although David Cameron won the prize for being "most vague". Here's some of the final data being compiled:

This is the brilliant visual of all of their words being attached to a cylindar, in length-order. You'll notice some spelling mistakes, but this is inevitable in a live event and is probably allowable considering the amount of word data being compiled. See? There's my geekery, right there.

I seem to remember Nick Clegg mentioned 'money' and 'work' the most. (Note, Sosolimited's US spelling of 'cheques'.) Cameron was the winner on 'family' for most of the evening, as you'd expect for a Tory, but by the end he'd been beaten on that by one of the others.

The 'you', 'us', 'them' measure was fascinating. Gordon seemed to use 'us / we' words a hell of a lot. Here's Nick talking about 'you'.

Although that threw up a strange moment at the end of the evening. I don't remember this revelation being spoken, and it wasn't much covered by the papers... but can you spot Gordon's Star Wars moment in the piccie below. Yes. It seems that Dave is Gordon's mother.

Rupert Murdoch can stick that particular revelation in his pipe and smoke it 'til it chokes him. Thank you, Sosolimited and FuturEverything for an enjoyable night.

I hope Soslimited don't mind me posting my photos here. They have far, far better pictures on Flickr, where some of the finer points of data visualisation are explained.

Meanwhile, I'm going to create my own remix on election night by scrawling a willy on my TV screen.

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