Yeah, this is a bad news / good news post.

First: Progress.

Second, bad news.  I spent most of yesterday attempting to get JavaScript and XML to play nice together.  I was hoping to streamline my back-end this way but hit a roadblock when attempting to get the variables and arrays constructed from my XML pulls (via AJAX) to integrate into my Processing program.  Due to using AJAX, I decided to just include jQuery, since I’m already somewhat familiar with it.  But, in the end, I was unable to get past the Processing road block.  I will probably continue to work on this in the future, but until I find a solution, I will continue with my PHP+SQL format.

Finally, good news.  I’ve finally decided on a direction for my project (as long as it’s approved by my advisor).  I hint at my final form with my current progress.  I’ve decided to abandon historical data in favor of real-time data, in no small part due to the recent release of the Real-Time Congress API from Sunlight Labs.   The visualization will now be an attempt to display the “political-media” zeitgeist, plotting legislators along a sort of scatter-plot with the political spectrum along the x-axis and derived “media quotient” along the y-axis.  I’ll talk more about this media quotient later.  The size of each legislator’s radius will be determined by their “political capital”, derived from the number of bills they are sponsoring.  In this way, a viewer can see a real-time view of the political-media landscape.

The second portion of this application, underneath the visualization, will be links and feeds to the selected legislators various media mouthpieces – their C-Span, Twitter, and YouTube feeds, for instance.  I also hope to include recent news stories related to them.

Perhaps the aspect I’m most excited about, however, is including some basic physics into the visualization.  The legislators will then be bumping into each other, crowding out each other’s space within this political-media landscape.  Furthermore, I hope to, when a legislator is selected, release “tendrils” from that legislators which will connect to other legislators based on their co-sponsorship of bills (info available from the Real Time API), and possible if they are mentioned in another persons speech (AND possibly also representing committee relationships).  Whether or not these tendrils will also have a basic physics… well, I’d like to.  Here’s hoping that there’s time.

In this way I think my visualization will both be a useful tool for journalists and political junkies to get a real-time, aggregated view of the political-media landscape.  At the same time, I hope it will serve in some ways as a criticism of the importance media now plays in political power.  More on this later.