Visual SOTU Analysis, via 'Infomous'

(In the spirit of Guest Blogger week, and as part of our ongoing State of the Union festivities, here is a bonus entry by Eric Bonabeau, a theoretical physicist who is the founder and CEO of the Icosystem company. He is originally from France and is now based in Santa Fe, NM.)

By Eric Bonabeau

The more avid readers of may have noticed that a strange "Trending on the Site" box appeared last September on the right hand side of the page. It uses a tool called Infomous to provide a visual summary of the most recent topics added to the site across all the channels.

I am partial to Infomous not just because it has been developed by my colleagues at Icosystem, but also because I have become addicted to it for visualizing complex topics. Unlike the great-looking Wordle (, or see the NPR poll results), Infomous provides some semantic context by connecting words that represent concepts which appear together in a document, a set of documents, or a speech. Consider for example  the following snapshot, comparing the SOTU addresses from 2010 and 2011 (you can play with it yourself and change the number of words, and more, here.) The little "bubbles" you see are clusters of words that appeared together in the address. Frankly, the tone may have changed, but the content is quite stable.

A more subtle analysis, I am sure, will reveal all the differences -that is, if Jim Fallows finds his annotations. [They finally appeared -- here!] But contrast this with the obvious and substantial differences you can see between Obama's speech in Tucson two weeks ago and Palin's statement. So, go ahead, visualize and make your own opinion.

Obama Palin.jpg

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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