From a pithy and somehow true post by Stewart Butterfield on the problems of creating visualisations of social networks:
Artist/curator friend Mark Soo did a piece for one of the Infest openings where he visualized the curators’ social network using balloons with people’s names printed on them as the nodes and ribbons tying them together as the edges (the data comes from “invites” he got the curators to send to one another). This was a great, inviting, tactile “graph manipulaton interface”. But the reason I liked it so much was that it really brought out the problems of social networks visualizations as a way of learning about the networks being visualized: too confusing!
He also cites a few examples of some of the attempts to visualise them – the problems should become self-evident:
- GameNeverEnding Social Network Graph
- FirstMonday Social Network Graph
- Friendster Social Network Graph
Two things immediately occur to me – firstly how do we as humans make sense of this data in our everyday lives (because we’re incorporating at least some of it into our mental models, surely, and understanding that would make it easier for us to enhance those models rather than creating new ones that create nothing but cognitive overload), and secondly What would Tufte do?.