The opening of enormous databases and the availability of new tools for accessing heterogeneous flows of Internet data are offering pioneering opportunities to observe and represent social Complex systems. The cartography of controversies, an applied version of the Actor-Network Theory, is one of the examples of this new way of exploring and understanding these systems. Controversies, here seen as social Complex phenomena, are some of the most multifaceted phenomena of society: they cannot be described from a single point of view. The researcher dealing with controversies would need original technical and conceptual tools for understanding and grasping their dynamics and their processes.
Our starting point is the recognition that Internet is both an object to be studied and a tool for studying and researching.¬†Furthermore Internet could be used as a platform to research about society rather than about digital and online culture. Several strategies and devices have been developed, such as crawlers and ad hoc research engines acting as epistemological machine, to observe, reassemble and comprehend wide social Complex issues. This hypothesis defines a new emerging cultural form that finds in the Internet a precious box which contains the elements to capture, explain and discuss social phenomena.
Where engines create ordered lists of relevant sources, information visualization can provide overviews of a particular system, making hidden relationships visible and information more accessible and useful. For these reasons the cartography of controversies overcomes some of the limits of the traditional description of social issues by exploiting the potentialities of information visualization and of information design. In this framework visual models and diagrammatic devices demonstrated to be useful tools to describe the different position assumed by the actors of controversy, and operating devices able to describe and unveil the nested and latent connections of a system or of a controversy.
In this framework information visualization would not provide the researcher with definitive answers, but would help in drafting better questions about the observed controversy. It could be stated that diagrams are like finding engines, rather than searching engines, able to better examine a faced issues. They act as epistemic machine as well.
Turtle is a software that allows following the development of a controversial issue in the media space, collecting and displaying information and the documents spread the various actors involved in it. The project aims at enhancing the exploration of news and document spread over long periods of time.
With adequate tools the traces of a controversy emerge and they can be observed. This data gathering process finds in the Internet a precious box, which contains the elements to reassemble the network and the dynamics of a controversy. Turtle, from a technological point of view, posits itself above information and discursive flows developed over the Internet. It is made up by a series of tools and devices able to explore controversies and could be defined as an observation environment of the discursive fragments flowing through the Internet.
Turtle is able to grasp significant discursive data exploiting the potentialities implicit in RSS feed system. For this project an RSS is a constant source of information related to specific actor. Each RSS feed is associated to an actor, vice versa each actor could be related to a more than one RSS feed. Turtle is periodically monitoring the feed list for each actor, and it finds relevant news and traces for the analyzed controversy.
From a graphic interface point of view Turtle is made by two explorative tools: Turtle Timeline useful to analyze data and observe the controversy, depicting the results of the automatic Internet information gathering; Turtle dynamics
synthesizes information showing the position of the various actors, their relations and the most important content of their discourses.
The specific goal of Turtle Timeline is to visualize the discursive fragments and stress their relationships. The observer can link two or more fragments assigning to their relationships in terms of similitude or contrast. Three are the possible links: a generic one, depicted as a grey line; the second, an agreement link, assigned by the observer when he considers the content of two fragments as converging; the third one, a disagreement one when the observer states that the content of two fragments are in conflict or show two different opinions or point of views. Furthermore, the observer can assign a weight to the last two links, indicating the strength of the concordance and discordance.
Turtle dynamics is the complementary device of Turtle Timeline. It gathers the fragments actor by actor and the relationships among them, proposed by the observer to visualize a synthesis of the controversy. It shows cluster of actors for a specific momentum as a graph; letting emerge the relationships among clusters of actors. The latter are visualized as circles, with a directly proportional to number of fragments produced by them. Each position on the graph is a function of the relationship built by the observer in Turtle Timeline. The distance among the circles decreases as the agreement links between actors increases. On the contrary the distance increases if two actors have lots of fragments in opposition.
The tool is still on development.