Augmented Politics: No Obstacle Between You and the White House!

Augmented Politics: No Obstacle Between You and the White House!

Television has been for long the preferred channel for information. Sitting on a sofa or a chair, more or less actively listening to what comes out of the speakers has become the easiest way to stay updated to worldwide news. Radio and Newspaper can not keep up and are fighting hard to do not disappear. Is the passive consumption of television expected to increase in the coming years? The digital revolution has brought a new competitor and the Internet is continuing to erode the other channels of information like TV, radio, and newspapers as the source of news. One of the latest survey made by Pew Research Center (conducted in the late Spring 2012 ), which is taken biannually and cover the changing in the news landscape, argues that the faster spreading of mobile devices and social networks is accelerating the shift to online news consumption: “[...]percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site yesterday has doubled – from 9% to 19% – since 2010. Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33%) as saw any television news (34%), with just 13% having read a newspaper either in print or digital form” .

This testifies a certain predisposition for the new generations to consume news via digital platforms, allowing a better understanding of what it is read/listened thanks to the inherent abilities of the web such as search, connections and social functions.

In this active context, where people are getting news on the web and sharing stories with others using social media, could be possible a better understanding and comprehension of the news? When we are getting information from TV or newspapers, is common to forget a politician, his role and his past, sometime even his party. Moreover, there are some political definitions that are extremely complicated to understand: electoral systems, law-making procedures, constitutional references and so on. These misunderstandings make the comprehension of the political world difficult, fostering distrust, lack of participation and transparency. We know so little of what is perceived at the level of civic understanding from hearing news from TV. The language related to politics may be familiar to journalists and members of the various democratic processes, but we have problems to assess what is the average level of understanding of an article containing terms related to politics. In addition, the proliferation of online communication and the contacts’ balkanization caused by social media makes it harder to understand what is the most accessible and immediate way to be in touch with either institutional representative or party members. The official e-mail? The Facebook profile? The twitter channel? The speed of online news’ release does not allow an in-depth understanding, possible with a simple query on a search engine or by a Wikipedia visit.

To help news consumer to avoid misconceiving and/or foster social change, is it possible to “augment” the comprehension of politics simply using the browser and a bookmarklet: Augmented politics is an extension for web browsers that provides short, essential info and explanation about politicians and terms related to politics mentioned in a website, without leaving the visiting page.

How does it work?
Augmented politics is a modified version of Truth Googles , designed by a former MIT Civic Media member Dan Shultz, who has open-sourced the code and posted it to GitHub. The front-end is written in the JavaScript library JQuery, and the back-end in PHP. A database contains all the searchable words.
After the installation of the bookmarklet (the procedure is easy and explained in the official website), it is possible to activate the plugin just clicking on the saved button. Augmented Politics will scan all the text highlighting every concept/name that match with the database. Clicking on a highlighted word will open a new info panel with further information related to that word.

When a definition/concept has been selected the panel will show:

  • a brief text that describes in broader term the selected word
  • an embed video (optional)
  • “More” button, a link to further resources/longer explanations (optional)
    a link to an Infographic (optional)
  • the source of the explanation (optional)
  • “I care” button, which links to a page where is possible to take actions about an issue (optional)

For instance, if the word “acid rain” is selected, in the info panel will appear:

When a politician is selected, the infopanel will show:

  • Name – name of the politician
  • Surname – surname of the politician
  • Photo – link to the photo
  • Position – actual position
  • Email - an active email to reach the politician
  • Facebook – link to Facebook profile
  • Twitter – link to Twitter Profile
  • Website – link to personal blog/website
  • Telephone – an active telephone
  • Wikipedia – the link to Wikipedia page

      Website (Augmentedpolitics.org)
      Along the extension’s development, a website ( here as a temporary solution, then Augmentedpolitics.org, already registered) has been built where it is possible to :

      • install the plugin for different browsers,
      • contact the developers
      • ask for a collaboration.

      The collaboration page explains how to add/edit words that will be inserted in the database, using a shared Google Docs.

      Augmented Politics 2.0
      The short amount of time made impossible to develop all the features written in the design process. The roadmap for the next version will see:

      • a brief history of a selected politician, with data gathered from websites like OpenCongress, in order to show all his records (presence, voting history, documents presented).
      • a visualization of the latest social updates
      • a better representation of Infographic
      • a better collaborative tools to add/edit words, such as a wiki platform
      • a collaboration with universities and institutions that can improve academic references and quality
      • the creation of a community of editors/web developers who are passionate about the project
      • the possibility to store self-produced material as video and pictures

      Conclusion
      Keeping track of every political figure is not easy. Moreover, you should not need a degree in political science to understand the world today. What you need is a web browser and the will to understand in a better way how politics is working. Augmented Politics not only helps you in the process of learning, trying to explain in a better way the text that someone is reading; the extension can also encourage to engage for a social change, giving options for an active action, which can be from a simple email to a representative till a further civic engagement with an organization. With a better understanding of politics, anything is possible, even run for the White House!
      Whether you are interested in the development, send me an email (mbani at mit.edu)