The obsession of the media and political worlds with pointless info-toys met a new nadir last night, during the webby part of Newsnight's otherwise respectable coverage of the first Prime Ministerial debate. Reporter Justin Rowlatt was tasked with using the power of "tag clouds" - also known as Wordles - to offer insights into …
I hate these things
They're shiny but pointless, often much like the information they are attempting to summarise.
Our old friend "shit flash game" made an appearance too.
Not to mention Twitter... anyone who is able to Twitter and watch the debate at the same time evidently isn't paying full attention to either ,and should not have their ignorant opinions broadcast on national TV.
Just breaking the tedium
It's TV, it's only entertainment (either for the viewers or the presenters - in this case, it was the repsenters). All they were trying to do was jazz-up a frightfully dry and dull peice of unnecessary analysis, with some hastily thrown together, simple and cheap graphics.As with most of the stuff the Beeb does, it was meant more for their internal audience - the budget holders, than for the licence fee payers, who don't have any choice in the matter.
Either way, the Beeb's news and current affairs has drifted into new lows recently. Yesterday, when there was a brand new story (volcanos, airy-planes etc.) they gave the massive, country-wide and previously unexplained event very little morning news-time and plodded on with their pre-planned and scripted "news" about the forthcoming debate. Today, when Sky and others are coming up with some insightful (and graphic) thoughts on the debate, the beeb are focussing on the one they missed yesterday - with reporters yapping on, from outside and inside deserted airports. Not only did they completely miss the boat yesterday, but they caught the wrong boat back today.
Woah, hang on a minute there
That's where you're wrong, unfortunately, or at least should be. 'It's TV, it's only entertainment' has become the excuse for such monstrosities as Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Ant and Dec's Kangaroo-hole-based-cuisine takeaway (aka I'm a D-list Celebrity get me out of here) and ITV News. Newsnight is the BBC's flagship news and politics analysis programme, NOT an entertainment show, and the fact that this wordmess (TM) counts as news, politics or, indeed, analysis, is a damning indictment of the level to which the BBC has sunk.
liveblogging the debates
First let’s hear the leader’s opening statements:
Captain Clegg: Hello! I’m different to the Labservatives
Mr Frown: Remember, I just destroyed the economy but the Conservatories are really, really scary
Mr Balloon: Bleep. Thank you for purchasing the Leader-bot 500. I am programmed in over six million forms of public relations.
Courtesy of here: http://millenniumelephant.blogspot.com/2010/04/day-3391-debate-night-we-rule.html
. has a good take on this 'visual representation' nonsense on the news. You used to have a man sitting in a studio reading the news. But now, they will jet people off to stand in front of somthing - even if they could have delivered the same peice in studio.
Also, asking the public their opinion on things - yeah, right - a kneejerk reaction by someone who has absolutely no idea what they are talking about beyond what they made up in the last few seconds is SO much more newsworthy than professional analysis!
Likewise, monitoring the effluence stream that is Twitter reaches a new low. The media are obsessed with Twitter, but I dont know a single living real person who uses it!
Grr to asking the public
Amen. Really, who gives a shit? Most proles struggle to think in a joined-up fashion.
This is particularly prevalent on Sky News - whenever they get someone in to discuss an issue they replace the distinguished professor of X and the head of the committe on Y with "Jim, who runs the blog strongopinionslooselyheld.com from his bedroom" and who is clearly excited to be on the telly.
Newsflash for Sky: Just because their opinions come cheaper doesn't mean they're not overcharging.
It would appear that the countries political parties are all employing one. The different between the Daily Mails turdspurt and the politico's drivel is one output appears in print while the other appears on tv, the radio, you constituency or you own doorstep.
And to make matters even worse, Mangeltwat was within five miles of my house yesterday, according to my local rag. They even have a pic to prove it, thoyugh I suspect it has been heavily Photoshopped as he appears to be dancing with a lady (not one from Little Britain).
Tag clouds are great. As quick navigation around an interactive doobrey where the people who put it together know how to use tags.
They are useless for conveying information.
Where can I click on NewsNight to follow a link in a tag cloud? Does throwing a brick at the screen have any effect? If not, then can I just yell ...see icon...
For making your own. However at work so unable to try rude words, but a Microsoft Patch FAQ made a lovely shape.
Your article one was great, have you considered making it available as a poster?
Um, here's a word...
they have a place........
just not here. word clouds are great for taking a huge amount of info, and condensing it into a managable size. Its just that a debate isnt ideal, as there isnt enough words. Customer letters of complaint are a great example of where word clouds are handy, they allow you to see what the most peolle are complaining about.
I found twitters use last night...
It wasn't for making incisive political debate - it was for making snarky comments about Gordon Browns tie looking like a long section of luncheon meat someone had stapled to his throat (and more frighteningly, the fact that it *suited* him....) and generally taking the piss out of the whole affair in 140 characters in less.
The idea of twitter being used to gauge *informed* opinion [which is what is needed in political debate] is an utter fucking joke. The sooner the press* realise this, the better.
*El Reg gets exception for taking the piss out of twitter at every given opportunity.
Might be interesting to make a fart cloud or whatever it's called from the comments page for that death row allergy article yesterday.
It Was Embarrasingly Bad
This poor front-man had clearly been told to go out there and " Get down with the kids on the street"
Falling over himself in mock excitement, he was unable to put his own sentences together, never mind the drivel of the "monosyllabs" he was compelled to read out.
No more, please!
...this use of web 2.0 will be blogged about incessantly, leading to a black hole of recursion with all websites everywhere replaced by a tag cloud reading simply, 'tag cloud'. Followed by the landslide election victory of Mr Cloud, the first Prime Minister to be entirely composed of Comic Sans.
To take a different line...
maybe the problem was the 'expert' rather than the tools.
Doing a word frequency breakdown on the various leaders responses does tell is something about their approaches, if you just interpret the information you're given in the right way.
let's take just the first word Rowlett picked out for each leader.
'got' for Brown - Rowlett reckoned this was a mistake. No it wasn't, it tells us that Brown likes to emphasise what we have, what we've 'got', i.e. what he believes Labour has given us, and also indicates that he likes to use the imperative a lot 'we have got to do this' - or so he believes.
'country' for Cameron - he likes to view issues from a national rather than international angle.
'old' for Clegg - he wants us to do away with the 'old' parties, the 'old' system and he kept emphasising that
The piece didn't work because Rowlett didn't put any effort into it, not because there is anything inherently wrong with word frequency analysis (and a tag cloud is simply a visual representation of that).
Thumbs up Mr Brown
...Tim Brown, that is.
Yes, the tag cloud is designed to help you find the salient points in a textual data set -- they are metadata only, and any serious analysis has to be done on the data, not the metadata.
If they're not going to follow the tags as "links" to the data, well they may as well simply count up the letters and say "like most of the country, Gordon Brown favours E over every other vowel, so must be a man of the people". Then follow up with "like most of the country, Nick Clegg favours E over every other vowel, so must be a man of the people" and "like most of the country, David Cameron favours E over every other vowel, so must be a man of the people"....
line of what?
Wordclouds would also hide the fact that you struggle to create coherent sentences, and sound like Mystic Meg.
the old beeb
are obsessed with new tech, trying to look flashy and trendy and soo coool with their new toys. err. who pays for this shite?
it is a march on the dumbing down road.....
Time went bad man
(top right of this article's tag cloud)
Stuff that... what was the tech that interpreted a speach and reduced it down to what the liar^H^H^H^H politician was saying?
On the other hand ...
While the rest of the world analyses, makes guesses on who was best, ... doesn't the whole charade just say: why should we have politicians anyway? What can they really, really do (apart from fill word clouds that is)?
Although wordles look like tag clouds...
They aren't the same thing. As the article says (though incorrectly applied to tag clouds), wordles are based on how many times a word appears in a source document. Tag clouds are based on how many times a particular keyword, or tag, has been associated with a resource as descriptive metadata. It is quite possible for the most popular tag for something to be a word that doesn't appear anywhere in the original resource. For example, if this article were to be bookmarked on delicious, the word "fail" would probably be very prominent in its tag cloud, even though it doesn't appear in the article.
If Paxman had presented these segments, they would have been given the respect they deserved. Remember his legendary weather forecasts from a few years back?
Snouts in the trough
I seem to remember that in the guardian coverage of the expenses fiasco, they did a wordle of the items that were claimed on expenses. Now THAT made for some interesting reading...
Yup, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/may/08/mps-expenses-houseofcommons
And here I thought journalism was dead stateside.
Well, I guess it still is, isn't it. Good luck with all that.
You or I or anyone in the general population might operate under impression that politicians are in charge. Sure they do have power to sign or withhold dosh but nowadays it is more a case of inverted imported (that is: tail wagging the dog).
It seems as if politicians are merely reduced to final signatory admin duties and perhaps Brown knows this?
[keep the (un)civil servantry happy even if it is wasteful it keeps the ecosystem moving]
Cameron and the other chap seem in axe wielding mode and do they truly think that (un)civil servantry will respond faithfully to those government lead initiatives?
By the time those initiatives have trickled in much reduced form from naive good intention to perverted action will probably take years and in effect be unworkable at target and very effective on meaningless minnows.
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