Feedback for Net Politics

Dear Net Politics,

It is exciting to see the separate parts of your project beginning to cohere into a single unit. With just a few hours more work, it can be tightened up significantly further. Below, we detail some strategies for doing this.

You have done a nice job introducing important differences between some of the candidates in a given year, but have not linked together your individual sections in enough places to highlight the changes across elections. By adding some short, carefully worded transition statements, you can transform a loose network of parts into a single body that communicates your argument.

Good work on both your site and in the presentation of clearly stating your historical question. You can add to the the continuity of your project by adding a concise statement of your argument to your home page. Do this with the same emphasis as your question. Hit the viewer right up front with it, at least in brief, so that it frames the upcoming data presentation for the reader.

Toward the end, you may wish to add a more elaborate discussion of the implications of your conclusions. Consider finishing with a conclusions page or section that viewers encounter after navigating through the election pages. This will bookend the case studies on both ends, leaving the reader with a clearly defined picture, as opposed to an open-ended presentation.

In both an introduction and conclusion, use language that emphasizes changes in the actions of the campaigns. Your question does not explicitly ask about change over time (although in the context of this course it seems to be implied). A bold (both metaphorically and in typeface!) statement of the argument will clear this ambiguity and prepare readers for case studies that reveal dramatic changes in both the technological landscape and campaigns’ ability to change course. Some of this is already on your front page, but it just needs to be sharpened.

In addition to clarifying your argument in your general introduction and conclusion, you want to have a through-line that carries your argument across the case studies. This can be done by adding some brief statements at the beginning and end of each election page, reminding the reader of your argument, and pointing out what is different about the election under discussion relative to the others in the project. These transitions help reader keep the argument in mind as you support it with your data.

For example, the 2004 page begins with a single line, “Different ways the 2004 presidential campaigns used the internet to connect with voters.” This is too general of a label for the posts that appear. Use a label that ties more directly into your argument so that readers are prepared from the first moment to see evidence for your argument unfold. At the beginning of the page, you should set the scene by characterizing, based on your analysis and interpretation of the sources, how social media was used in 2004. Just saying that there were “different ways” isn’t enough — be more precise. Collectively, the posts for 2004 show some serious technological challenges that inhibited using the internet for building social networks–this came across well during the presentation, but is a bit buried without a full introduction to the page.

For the 2008 page, you go directly into the posts without introduction. A short statement at the beginning that signals to the reader where this page stands relative to your argument will go a long way. A short statement at the end will set the stage for the upcoming 2012 page.

The 2012 page also lacks an introduction. Even a brief statement at the beginning will serve as a transition, indicating to the reader what type of change is occurring. Don’t assume that the audience knows how internet usage is different in 2012 than in 2008. Get the reader ready for data that is going to show how Obama’s team built on previous techniques to exploit the power of the internet at a whole new level and with a new systemic rigor.

Anton astutely pointed out during the presentation how daunting he found the large amount of data generated by and about the 2012 election (“Trouble with the abundance in front of me.”). However, he did not stop there. He showed that he is emerging from his deep dive into the data and making sense of it. By adding transitions (even as short as one sentence each) at strategic locations–beginning and ending each post, and even in between posts, you can ensure that readers who are coming to this topic brand new get the meanings that you have discovered clearly and quickly and do not get lost in the data.

The concluding paragraph on the 2012 page is a nice example of a conclusion. Although since it effectively serves as the final stop for a reader navigating through your project in chronological order, we recommend setting it off more boldly and then connected to a paragraph recapping your argument and what has been proven.

There were some great moments in all of your presentations when the candidates or their campaign staffs were described as agents of change. This brings the history alive and it forces the reader to think through the specific details of change along with you. For example, Anton’s description of Harper Reed. He serves as an example of a person who made very consequential decisions for the campaigns’ implementation of social media. Anton also did a nice job explaining how the use of Dashboard–a very specific change–had broad consequences. Another example is when Eli pointed out that Obama “made it a strategy” to connect via fifteen networks. This specificity makes it very clear that you understand, better than most, how and why the situation changed.

Be careful with sourcing. All images, charts, graphs, etc. should have a link to the original source as well as a caption specifying the source. Bibliographic information such as that listed at and in a string of links need to be fleshed out. As we discussed in class, we are flexible on the style, but the author, date, and basic public information need to be included. They should also include captions that give the reader a sense of how you interpret the meaning of the visual source.

Some design considerations that you might address in your paper: How could the right sidebar be adjusted to offer alternative access points to your data? Do you want viewers to have such alternatives, or do you want them to navigate in a linear path? If you decided on a linear trajectory, is it safe to assume readers will move from left to right across the top menus, or does this need to be more rigidly structured? Finally, along other lines, do you want comments on your home page? These can be turned off.

Finally: very nice job across the board employing data mining to recognize word patterns and displaying them via Wordle and Voyant.

Luke and Tom