It’s early days, but just like the record industry, American democracy is being taken apart and rebuilt by digital technology and the web.
Several trends are converging to make this possible and, I think, inevitable. All are characterized by the loss of centralized control to open and/or free systems. These include the rise of open political platforms, such as moveon.org, as an alternative to parties; and the disintermediation of news coverage via blogs, YouTube and citizen journalism. Lately I’ve been following the rise of a third trend: alternative ways of tracking candidates’ reputations. The latest example of that: Wonkosphere.
Wonkosphere uses patented technology licensed from the University of Arizona to track how much buzz there is about candidates, as well as the tone of that buzz. It crawls hundreds of blogs every day. To measure buzz:
[Wonkosphere] measures the proportion of buzz for each candidate in all blogs for the 24 hours preceding the latest update. Percentages for each candidate are calculated every four hours. To get the value we first analyze each blog post for each candidate, and score the prominence of the candidate’s name within the post. We sum these prominence scores across all candidates then express their scores as a percent of the total.
As for tone:
Tone measures the amount of positive and negative language used in statements about the candidate in blog posts. On the home page and top of the candidate pages, we indicate whether the tone value is high, low, or average compared to the average range of tone values for all the candidates in the last 24 hours. These values are broken out for liberal and conservative blogs.
We also calculate an average tone value across all posts each candidate for each calendar day, broken out by political persuasion of the blogs mentioning the candidate.
Wonkosphere also plans to reintroduce its “Mud Meter”, which it used in 2004 to measure mud-slinging between George Bush and John Kerry.
As I mentioned, Wonkosphere’s tech is patented (and they even trademarked “Mud Meter”), but the content is free. I don’t see any mention of plans for an open API, but that would be welcome.
As with the Wikipedia trust-coloring system (which is not limited to politics and which I wrote about here) and the Truth-o-Meter (wrote about it here), data graphics are used to powerful effect: condensing storms of information so that meaning can be seen at a glance.
And come to think of it, free, powerful data graphics generation is another trend behind technology-enabled open democracy.