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Leaders' debate in the virtual world

Updated Friday, 16th April 2010

How did real-time mapping and Wordle clouds help make sense of the first 2010 General Election leaders' debate?

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After the popularity of the Leaders' Debate last night, people are asking why it didn’t happen sooner.

But you know what? I think it’s come at just the right time. If it had happened during the last election, we’d never have had the luxury of real-time mapping and Wordle clouds (and no, I’m not referring to a real-time map of the spread of Icelandic volcanic ash. But if you want to see one, check this out).

So, real-time mapping... Simon Buckingham Shum is a rather clever lecturer who resides in the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMi), our research and development lab. He created a tool that maps out the different contributions made by the three leaders using Compendium. By zoning in on the main points each candidate made, it cleverly highlights the most contentious topics using red challenges links, plus shows the areas where the leaders were most consensual, using green supports links.

Screen grab of mapping tool Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Open University KMi

Something he pointed out on the KMi blog this morning was how the map shows very clearly how Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg (who incidentally came out top on polls from last night’s debate) sought to move beyond the traditional Labour-Tory face-off and opened up totally new space by specifically questioning his opponents’ policies.

Compendium image with red arrows showing main arguments around Trident
[Image: Open University KMi]

Other useful tools include the ITV Wordle Cloud which highlights the words used most by the candidates in the debate. Interesting how Cameron and Clegg both used "think" a lot - in the sense of "I think" or "we think" - yet Brown barely used it. We had to chuckle in the offices when we also noticed “overspeaking” appearing in all three clouds - a stage direction rather than a word they used, but an indication of how often the rules were broken...

I'm sure there'll be more tools like these as the election draws closer...

Find out more

Tony Hirst explains how to create a real-time map of shipping on The Solent

Alan Shipman offers his personal take on the National Insurance debate

Is the 2010 election following the shape of the 1992 poll? Find out as we rewind '92





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