Interactive software to allow reporters to visually analyze opinion data after elections

October 6th, 2008 - 3:34 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 6 (ANI): Computer scientists at the University of Utah in the US have written software they hope eventually will allow news reporters and citizens to easily, interactively and visually answer questions when analyzing election results, political opinion polls or other surveys.
The software displays data in the form of “radial” charts that are doughnut-shaped and include features of traditional pie charts and bar graphs.
The charts are interactive and animated so they change as a computer user asks to analyze poll results as a function of various demographic data.
According to Richard Riesenfeld, a University of Utah professor of computer science, “We have developed new techniques for exposing complex relationships that are not obvious by usual methods of statistical analysis.”
Geoff Draper, a doctoral student and researcher with the university’’s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, devised the new method.
“I wanted to create a way to make it easy for the masses to analyze data, and that includes news reporters and television news anchors,” he said.
When pollsters release their results, extensive survey data often are boiled down to a few key questions.
TV news anchors and reporters cannot easily manipulate the data on the air to quickly answer a question that may arise.
To produce tables and graphs with common poll-analysis software, users must receive training, and then manipulate a spreadsheet containing large grids of numbers.
“If you generate a graph and don”t like the way it looks, you cannot change the graph just by manipulating the graph itself,” said Draper. “You have to go back to the source data. You have to throw away the graph and start over,” he added.
Charts in the new software are animated and change in real time as a person uses a computer mouse to drag and drop parameters into the center of the doughnut-shaped chart displaying poll results.
“Rather than navigate an external interface, queries (new questions about poll results) are constructed directly within the visualization itself,” Draper and Riesenfeld wrote in their study outlining the new method.
Despite developing the software to analyze poll or election results, the tool is general enough to let you analyze any type of demographic data.
According to Draper, “My goal is to get the idea out there and let other software developers incorporate our visual methods into their products.”
“The software would be useful for news reporters to go on the air and move the icons around and show how different demographic groups voted, how they feel about certain issues. Eventually, it might be used by the general public,” he added.
Draper named the new software ”Simple Query Interface with a Radial Layout”, or SQiRL. (ANI)

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