Each format provides a slightly different experience for the reader. According to Dant, judging by the feedback they have gotten from readers so far, “It seems that the simplest piece is the one that has reached people most effectively,” he said. “With every item you click on on that map, you’re guaranteed to get something potentially interesting to read. Whereas with the raw data, sixteen and a half thousand items, it can seem far more mundane, obviously in an almost shocking way.”
Dant said that he was slightly worried that piling all 16,500 blips onto a screen would desensitize the reader. Each one of those circles on the timeline has a story, has its own consequences attached, but with so many of them in one place, one could start to feel detached. It was slightly problematic to remove them from their associated narratives, he admitted. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the Flash timeline’s unique emotional effect, an experience caused by the gradual and exponential increase in explosions as the cursor reaches the present day.
The timeline can also illuminate patterns in violence, clustered in time and by geographic area. As Dant pointed out, when curious readers (and reporters) see such clusters, they can pause the playback and click on each explosion to identify it by report number. Then, if they are so inclined, they can look it up in the publicly available data on WikiLeaks and investigate it for themselves.
Dant said he knows that readers are still probably struggling to digest this “flood of information” that has come out since the story broke on Sunday. As of Tuesday, The Guardian’s Web site alone has about fifty stories analyzing the database’s contents. The interactive tools, he hopes, will help both Guardian reporters and readers in the future. The key is to be inspired to look further into the material now available, rather than to be merely overwhelmed by it.
“My hope is that, maybe in time, people will have the chance to sit down and use the interactive tools, and people will start to use it to mine the data a bit…. Potentially people are going to find more stories that way,” said Dant. “I wonder whether this can provide some kind of tool for people to find stories that haven’t really been told yet.”
Update: The first mention of Simon Rogers previously misstated his surname. It has since been corrected.