Comment Flow

Mar 1, 2007

MIT media lab / sociable media group
dietmar offenhuber, judith donath

Social networks are abstract organizational structures that help us understand the relationships among a group of interconnected individuals. Much recent research has focused on understanding the structure of these networks, identifying patterns such as bridges, structural holes, etc. and on developing visualizations for these often complex entities. Yet the network itself is a conceptual topology.   The key is the activity that flows along the network paths: the support offered, the information given, the gossip exchanged.
We have designed and implemented a flexible tool for the content driven exploration and visualisation of a social network. Building upon a traditional force-directed network layout consisting of nodes (profiles) and edges (friend-links), our system shows the activity and the information exchange (postings in the comment box) between nodes, taking the sequence and age of the messages into account. This project serves both as an illustration of one approach to the general problem of individuated network visualization and as an example of the practical uses of such representations.
In the mySpace service network-only visualization methods are no longer sufficient to meaningfully represent the community structure.  Numerous commercial profiles, fake/spam/celebrity profiles and tools such as automated friend adders result in a huge numbers of connections, many of which carry little information about a person’s actual social ties and behavior. The average myspace user has more than 130 friends, but there are also profiles with over a million “friends”.   By going beyond the “skeleton” of network connectivity and looking at the flow of information between the individual actors we can create a far more accurate portrait of online social life.

external: visual complexity, MIT Technology Review, Social Media Visualization Project

new media studies #7, Reductions in Social Network Visualization