"We've seen a real surge of interest in visualizations relating to politics," Martin Wattenberg, group manager for IBM's Visual Communication Lab, told me today. "After every presidential and vice-presidential debate so far, we immediately see people uploading transcripts and applying different visualizations to get different views."
IBM's lab lets contributors use their own charting methods to create pictures that capture the essence of a gnarly data set. But that's not the end of the process. Each graphic is accompanied by a discussion forum that allows other users to comment. After a visualization was posted comparing the size of a financial bailout to other federal spending, the discussion focused on whether the raw numbers told the whole story.
"It's interesting," Wattenberg said. "I feel as if visualizations often don't bring you to a conclusion, but end up starting a conversation and moving that conversation forward."