So, what was the weird green graph on TV during #SONA2015, and what did it mean?

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Obviously we were all glued to our sets (and our Twitter feeds) during last week’s, um, eventful State of the Nation Address (SONA)? By now almost all that can be said about the mobile phone jamming, the parliament skirmishes and the intrusion of armed police into the sacrosanct chambers of parliament has been said. So while we await the results of the first enquiry (and there are likely to be many) into what actually went on behind the scenes to orchestrate such a democratic disaster, let’s turn our attention to the rather more trivial but no less baffling question of the evening.

What on Earth was the weird graph on the side of the screen?

Apparently it appeared on all official feeds, including the ones broadcast on SABC 1 and, but while many in the office saw the graph going up and down, but for the life of us we had no idea what it represented. The strangely undulating line that followed the president’s delivery, which was interspersed with even odder solid green blocks at apparently random times.

According to (at whose request it was shown) the graph showed people’s reactions to President Jacob Zuma’s speech – and it was a first for South African television. selected 30 people in Gauteng’s urban areas and gave them a special device with a knob on it, which they could turn up if they heard something they liked, or turn down if they heard something that they didn’t agree with. The broadcaster said that it also measured all the shenanigans that happened before the President spoke.

When viewing the graph, it marked with bright red or green the spot where sentiment went over or under the mean average when enough viewers turned the dial in either direction.

The graph in the right-hand corner displayed the viewers' sentiments.
The graph in the right-hand corner displayed the viewers’ sentiments.

“The social experiment will give us a general idea of how urban South Africans respond to the SONA address. While not representative of all South Africans and not a national poll, it will give a snapshot of what urban swing voters not affiliated to any specific political party, think of the President’s address,” said in a statement.

While it was the first time that South Africa made use of the technology, similar experiments on a much wider scale have been tried during the US elections and in the UK during the televised prime ministers’ debates in 2010.

Its really interesting to see what people think at a particular time, but according to Dr Henk Pretorius, CEO and Founder of online market research firm Columinate, it was fun to watch but viewers shouldn’t put too much stock in it.

“The main goal is to entertain, to show an audience how a small sample of viewers feel about the event they are also viewing. However, from a research perspective they are not particularly valid, due to the small and unrepresentative number of people in the test. The samples employed in these tests, including the one, is much smaller than a typical political poll. In short, they are a bit of fun but lack any real scientific value,” Pretorius told us.

Charlie Fripp

Charlie Fripp

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.