Connect the dots

Today, Slate launches a new interactive feature called “News Dots,” which aims to illustrate how all news stories are related to each other using eye-pleasing info-graphics. As they explain it, “Like Kevin Bacon’s co-stars, topics in the news are all connected by degrees of separation.” It works using a computer program that scans all the articles from major publications—about 500 a day—and submits them to Calais, a service from Thompson Reuters that automatically “tags” content with all the important keywords. Slate gives the following example:

Like a human social network, the news tends to cluster around popular topics. One clump of dots might relate to a flavor-of-the-week tabloid story (the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping) while another might center on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the military. Most stories are more closely related that you think. The Dugard kidnapping, for example, connects to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who connects to the White House, which connects to Afghanistan.

Pretty weak. How about this? Jaycee Dugard has a nose, Schwarzenegger does too, he lives on the planet Earth, which is where the White House is located, and Afghanistan has houses in it, some of them white! Ta-da! We are all connected. What a small world.

This one definitely falls under the category of “bells and whistles for the sake of seeming innovative without actually being useful.” Kind of like another kind of dots-related product flop. Remember these?

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Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.