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Published April 29th 2015

Data Labs: Unveiling the UK General Election 2015 Topics Whale

For every “official” Brandwatch project there are often one or more unofficial counter-projects orbiting its gravity.

These rogue satellites are just one of the many tricks we employ to allow room for innovation and experimentalism around our solid core of serious quality.


Official projects have stakeholders, a business case and, ultimately, a purpose. Satellite-projects, by contrast, lack these limitations.

They can exist joyfully free of constraint, direction and purpose – which means they can also lack priority and the time to get them finished too, and so often come to nothing.

But this is fine, because they are allowed to fail. Failing is good. Failing is how we learn to make things better.


The Design team ponder the logistics of hanging a nine-metre print.

But occasionally one doesn’t fail. Occasionally one might turn out pretty good. Occasionally one ends up nine meters long and the subject of a “Data Labs” post.

Election stories

Brandwatch’s official UK Election project for 2015 is the Election Buzzboard, which is currently sharing a window into some of the social data we’re tracking.

With the buzzboard you can get a live snapshot of social reactions to the events of the campaign, updated every two minutes.


Our Election Buzzboard on Vizia

We’ve found the buzzboard has really come into its own during the live leaders debates where, from the limited perspectives of our living rooms, it may be hard to get a read on the national reaction solely via the cautiously bias-aware TV coverage.

The buzzboard was capable of giving us this assessment instantly.

However, we felt it would be pertinent to also take a longer, less-reactive view of the election campaign, to see what have been the persistent/recurrent stories of the campaign.

This became the counter-project, our “topics whale”.

Ventral grooviness

The whale is created by a simple app that extracts a list of the algorithmically determined topics for a certain time period via the Brandwatch API, then maps their swells and sweeps.

The “whale” nickname came from the way new topics feed in from the bottom of the stream, and so create this rather cool ventral-groove effect.

The whale’s-eye view of the election is a subtly different story than the buzzboard, where the tracked topics are the results of specific Queries.

The whale’s topics are derived from a broader dataset, the same data used for our previous election prediction experiments.


Whale details

The curves generated by the app are the contours of a landscape as seen from the top of a mountain of social data.

It is a raw, honest map of this terrain. These topics are a smart algorithm’s idea of what people online are talking about around the election campaign, rather than what a data analyst might go hunting for in the data.


The latter half of last Saturday’s 24hr whale. If you’re on a fast enough connection, you can see the full 7M image here.

We began by generating images daily, from the last 24hrs data, and dumping these images in a shared folder that could be linked to on the web. But even these fragments quickly exposed the major problem with presenting this story on the web – the file size.


The whale on Vizia

If we wanted to tell the full tale of the campaign, from beginning to end, it wasn’t going to be able to be presented online. Not without building a clever Google Maps-style interface to incrementally load these massive images, which simply wasn’t viable with such a short amount of time available.

Also, the fixed window of a laptop screen – or even our giant Vizia display – couldn’t really capture the full form of this landscape.

So, thoughts turned to print.

Big data. Really big data.

The best way the story could be told at full scale would be to take it outside of the screen. So, using the combined skills and enthusiasm of the whole Design team, we developed a BIG version – a render of the full 2015 UK Election campaign, day by day, beginning at New Year – in a format a printer could handle.

A big printer, obviously.


The whale at the printers, photos thanks to Rob and Emily at One Digital

This is the print that now adorns the wall of The Hub in our Brighton office, where the length can be walked, like a Bayeux Tapestry of snarky political memes. If you’re in the area, drop by and take a look.


The whale on the wall of Brandwatch’s Brighton office

Even though our nine-meter monster has been affixed with a degree of permanence it still has to be regarded as a test print, simply because the story is incomplete. The campaign isn’t over yet – we’ve another week to go, and another debate to follow on the buzzboard tomorrow.

Whether we’ll reprint it after the 7th May, or add a visual post-script to the end covering the final weeks maybe, we haven’t decided yet. There are already other projects (and counter-projects) vying for attention.

But if you’re currently planning your election party and have a nine-meter long space in need of a splash of colour, get in touch. We may have just the thing…



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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.