April 8, 2012
The technology used on this map is not detailed on the website itself, likely because the Economist is a private entity which would not like its competitors to crib its code for their own similar maps. It does, however, allow users to embed the map into other web pages, which is a good functionality (and a good advertisement for the Economist, too).
One important technological aspect is the dependence on Flash to run the map. For many Mac users this could be a problem. Luckily it is not a problem for me, as I am too poor to afford a Mac (and too dumb to read the Economist, but that is a different problem for a different class.)
All in all, the technology used is predominantly devoted more to the I (information) part of GIS than the G (geographic). The map is a basic map of 50 states, with the capability of hovering over each or zooming in to lock the info windows and explore them further. The information (about each state, primary, vote tally, and candidate) is top notch, so the simplicity of the geographic technology is actually a boon since it connects the user to the data without getting too much in the way of itself.
The interface is very good – hovering over a state temporarily changes the info window (shown above for “National”, the default when nothing is moused over) to show a summary detail of that state’s primary process and or results. Hovering over a candidate in one of the bar charts changes the window to show electoral details about that candidate.
One minor issue with the interface is the functionality of clicking on a state. As shown below for California, this click zooms the map onto the state specified and “locks” the info window onto that state so that moving the mouse off of it does not revert the window back to “National”.
The info “locking” functionality is useful, but the zooming in on the state does not appear to serve any purpose other than flashy aesthetics. No smaller-resolution (i.e. voting district) data is revealed, and the information shown by hovering over the candidate bars is not customized to the state in focus. In other words, the clicking provides absolutely no additional information besides a clearer picture of the outline of the state. The price of this “information” is a necessity to hit the “Reset map” button frequently to return to the full map to click on a state outside the immediate vicinity. Not a big deal, but the same amount of information could be garnered by highlighting or otherwise indicating the state in focus without zooming in and requiring extra “reset” clicks.
As someone who knows very little about politics (besides the fact that I am already tired of hearing about it on the news), this web GIS interface was very useful, educational, and even fun to use. I learned more from the hour I spent playing with this website than I have in the past month of accidentally hearing people blab about it on the television/radio.
The strengths of the website are in the simplicity of the interface, wherein hovering over or clicking almost anything gives immediate informational feedback. For any website I designed, I would hope to achieve a similar ease-of-use and fast learning curve. I would also aim to create a similar aesthetic beauty and simplicity – nothing on this site is stunningly modern, beautiful, or flashy, but it flows well and the color scheme is well constructed.
The weaknesses which I would try to avoid are unnecessary clicks (i.e. the frequent “Reset map” clicks after needlessly zooming in on a state). Additionally, I might try to make the symbology of the map more immediately clear – it took me a minute to decipher what each color, and each level of each color, denoted. Rather than explicitly showing a legend, the map relies on the user’s “connecting the dots” by the matching of colors to the bar charts at the bottom.