Visualizing Online Social Networks

Social network analysis is a system of mapping how individuals are related to each other and how they form connections around certain institutions or ideas. Visualization is the first step towards understanding any kind of social network, both online and offline.

Jeffrey Heer's Visualization Project - Large-Scale Online Social Network Visualization by Jeffrey Heer, University of California, Berkeley (2004)

Vizster: Visualizing Online Social Networks (PDF) - a research paper resuming the results of a large-scale online social network visualization project by Jeffrey Heer and Danah Boyd, University of California, Berkeley (2005)

The Vizster Website - Vizster, an interactive visualization tool for online social networks, allowing exploration of the community structure of social networking services such as friendster.com, tribe.net, and orkut; by Jeffrey Heer, UC Berkeley (2004)

Social Network Fragments - Social Network Fragments is a collaboration between Danah Boyd and Jeff Potter (2002)

Social circles - Social Circles tries to reveal the social networks that emerge in mailing lists by visualizing the social hierarchies and the main subjects they address, in near real-time; by Marcos Weskamp (2003)

O'Reilly Connection Network - Using Python and GraphViz, Timothy O'Brien visualized his 1st and 2nd level of connections on the O'Reilly Connection social networking site, putting himself into the center of the activity. The graph was created by crawling FOAF (Friend Of A Friend) documents from Timothy's O'Reilly Connection profile and then obtaining the FOAF documents of people associated with him. The results were then stored in a neato format and visualized using graphviz neato; by Timothy M. O'Brien (2005)

TraceEncounters - a social network tracking and visualization project by W. Bradford Paley, Jeff Han and Peter Kennard; (2004)

TraceEncounters Writeup (PDF) - TraceEncounters was debuted in Linz, Austria, at the Ars Electronica festival in 2004.

PieSpy Social Network Bot: Inferring and Visualizing Social Networks on IRC - PieSpy is an IRC bot that monitors a set of IRC channels. It uses a simple set of heuristics to infer relationships between pairs of users. These inferrences allow PieSpy to build a mathematical model of a social network for any channel. These social networks can be drawn and used to create animations of evolving social networks; by Paul Mutton (2004)

LJNet: LiveJournal Social Network Browser - LJNet is an interactive visualization of LiveJournal.com members' social networks. It shows the friends and friends of friends of any given LJ member in an aesthetic and easy-to-read network; by Patrick Barry, Human-Computer Interaction Institute @ Carnegie Mellon University

Community Structure in Jazz Using a database of jazz recordings Pablo M. Gleiser and Leon Danon (University of Barcelona) study the collaboration network of jazz musicians. They study the collaboration network between individuals and between bands that have a musician in common. The community structure analysis reveals that these constructions capture essential ingredients of the social interactions between jazz musicians. They observe correlations between recording locations, racial segregation and the community structure. A quantitative analysis of the community size distribution reveals a surprising similarity with an e-mail based social network study. Originally published in Advances in Complex Systems (ACS), 2003.


Maps of the academic web in the European Higher Education Area - Maps of the academic web in the European Higher Education Area: an exploration of visual web indicators is a research paper showing maps of the web presence of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) on the level of universities using hyperlinks and analyses the topology of the European academic network. Its purpose is to combine methods from Social Network Analysis (SNA) and cybermetric techniques in order to ask for tendencies of integration of the European universities visible in their web presence and the role of different universities in the process of the emergence of an European Research Area; by Jose Luis Ortega, Isidro Aguillo (CINDOC-CSIC, Madrid, Spain), Viv Cothey (University of Wolverhampton, UK), Andrea Scharnhorst (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), 2004.

GRAPHITE: A Visual Query System for Large Graphs (Video) - the video of "GRAPHITE: A Visual Query System for Large Graphs" (2009)

GRAPHITE: A Visual Query System for Large Graphs (PDF) - the original research paper on "GRAPHITE: A Visual Query System for Large Graphs" by Duen Horng Chau, Christos Faloutsos, Hanghang Tong, Jason I. Hong (Carnegie Mellon University), Brian Gallagher, Tina Eliassi-Rad (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory); 2008.

Encounter Bubbles - Encounter Bubbles, a network visualization tool built on top of the Mobster sociolocative service framework; a working paper by Zhanna Shamis and Sean Savage, UC Berkeley (2004)

Facebook Visualiser - Facebook Visualizer is a tool to visualize your personal social network on FaceBook. You can explore how all your contacts are connected to each other, and disclose unknown common friends. You can filter your network by Gender and Relationship Status (single, engaged, etc). You can also choose to see the inner connections of your facebook network and play with the distance between nodes (friends); by Sebastian Van Sande (2007)

Twitter Social Network Analysis - Twitter Social Network Analysis has been realized with the Large Graph Layout (LGL) tool to visualize a large social network on Twitter, using contacts from about 25,000 users. There is a link connecting two users if either one has the other as a friend and hence it is an undirected graph (of about 250,000 edges); by Akshay Java, Ebiquity Group (2007)

Global Distribution of Twitter Users - Global Distribution of Twitter Users - a social network visualization project analysing the distribution of Twitter users across the world, a parallel project to GeoTwitter; by Akshay Java, Ebiquity Group (2007)

Monitoring and Visualizing Last.fm - Monitoring and Visualizing Last.fm is a masters thesis project website of Christopher Adjei and Nils Holland-Cunz at the University of Applied Sciences Mainz, Germany

Viz4All - a visualization survey - Viz4All - a visualization survey a survey of visualization tools examined by graduate students from the University of Maryland

Social Network of BarraPunto - Social Network of BarraPunto; Barrapunto is a major portal for the Spanish-speaking open source community. This project maps the entire community of barrapunto to better understand the underlying web of relationships in the platform. (2007)

Implicit Structure and the Dynamics of Blogspace - Implicit Structure and the Dynamics of Blogspace: Weblogs link together in a complex structure through which new ideas and discourse can flow. Such a structure is ideal for the study of the propagation of information. This paper describes general categories of information epidemics and a tool to infer and visualize the paths specific infections take through the network. This inference is based in part on a novel utilization of data describing historical, repeating patterns of infection. The authors conclude with a description of a new ranking algorithm, iRank, for blogs. In contrast to traditional ranking strategies, iRank acts on the implicit link structure to find those blogs that initiate these epidemics. Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem, 13th International World Wide Web Conference, 2004; by Eytan Adar, Li Zhang, Lada A. Adamic, Rajan M. Lukose

POLANOID COMMUNITY: A social network visualization - POLANOID COMMUNITY: A social network visualization a network visualization of the Polaroid fan community site polanoid.net; by Julien Bayle (2007)


Visualizing the Singapore Blogosphere Visualizing the Singapore Blogosphere: Steven McDermott has targeted blogs using social network analysis uncovering the key players of the Singapore political blogs with higher levels of 'closeness centrality' and 'betweenness centrality'. An exploratory analysis of the position that the non-democratic nature of Singapore society shapes the development of online public spheres. It questions whether the internet engenders democracy or the dissemination of propaganda, fear, and intimidation. This network visualization analyzed 1239 blogs in the Singapore blogosphere in 2008; by Steven McDermott, Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds (2008)

GCrawler - This simple radial social network visualization was created by Polish developer Marcin "Vorg" Ignac, with the goal of exploring the connections between his friends (2008)

The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years - The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler (2007)

The 21 Heroes of Data Visualization - a great collection of artistic data visualization projects, in connection to a Business Week article about data visualization by Maria Popova (2009)

Visualizing the Signatures of Social Roles in Online Discussion Groups - Visualizing the Signatures of Social Roles in Online Discussion Groups - by Howard T. Welser, Ohio University, Eric Gleave, University of Washington, Microsoft Research, Danyel Fisher and Marc Smith, Microsoft Research. The Journal of Social Structure. 8(2) (2007)

Picturing Usenet: Mapping Computer-Mediated Collective Action - Picturing Usenet: Mapping Computer-Mediated Collective Action by Tammara Combs Turner, Marc A. Smith, Danyel Fisher (Microsoft Research, Redmond, WA) and Howard T. Welser (University of Washington), Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 2005 | The authors present visualizations of several aspects and scales of Usenet that combine to highlight the range of variation found in newsgroups. We examine variations within hierarchies, newsgroups, authors, and social networks. We find a remarkable diversity, with clear variations that mark starting points for mapping the broad sweep of behavior found in this and other social cyberspaces. Our findings provide the basis for initial recommendations for those cultivating, managing, contributing, or consuming collectively constructed conversational content.

Do You Know the Way to SNA?: A Process Model for Analyzing and Visualizing Social Media Data (PDF) - Do You Know the Way to SNA?: A Process Model for Analyzing and Visualizing Social Media Data by Derek L. Hansen, Dana Rotman, Elizabeth Bonsignore, Natasa Milic-Frayling, Eduarda Mendes Rodrigues, Marc Smith, Ben Shneiderman, Tony Capone (2009) | Traces of activity left by social media users can shed light on individual behavior, social relationships, and community efficacy. Tools and processes to analyze social traces are essential for enabling practitioners to study and nurture meaningful and sustainable social interaction. Yet such tools and processes remain in their infancy. The authors conducted a study of 15 graduate students who were learning to apply Social Network Analysis (SNA) to data from online communities. Based on close observations of their emergent practices, the authors derived the Network Analysis and Visualization (NAV) process model and identified stages where intervention from peers, experts, and an SNA tool were most useful. We show how the NAV model informs the design of SNA tools and services, education practices and support for social media practitioners.

Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL (PDF) - Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL by Marc A. Smith, Ben Shneiderman, Natasa Milic-Frayling, Eduarda Mendes Rodrigues, Vladimir Barash, Cody Dunne, Tony Capone, Adam Perer, Eric Gleave (2009) | The authors present NodeXL, an extendible toolkit for network overview, discovery and exploration implemented as an add-in to the Microsoft Excel 2007 spreadsheet software. They demonstrate NodeXL data analysis and visualization features with a social media data sample drawn from an enterprise intranet social network. A sequence of NodeXL operations from data import to computation of network statistics and refinement of network visualization through sorting, filtering, and clustering functions is described. These operations reveal sociologically relevant differences in the patterns of interconnection among employee participants in the social media space. The tool and method can be broadly applied.

First Steps to NetViz Nirvana: Evaluating Social Network Analysis with NodeXL - First Steps to NetViz Nirvana: Evaluating Social Network Analysis with NodeXL by Elizabeth M. Bonsignore, Cody Dunne, Dana Rotman, Marc Smith, Tony Capone, Derek L. Hansen, Ben Shneiderman (2009) | Social Network Analysis (SNA) has evolved as a popular, standard method for modeling meaningful, often hidden structural relationships in communities. Existing SNA tools often involve extensive pre-processing or intensive programming skills that can challenge practitioners and students alike. NodeXL, an open-source template for Microsoft Excel, integrates a library of common network metrics and graph layout algorithms within the familiar spreadsheet format, offering a potentially low-barrierto-entry framework for teaching and learning SNA. We present the preliminary findings of 2 user studies of 21 graduate students who engaged in SNA using NodeXL. The majority of students, while information professionals, had little technical background or experience with SNA techniques. Six of the participants had more technical backgrounds and were chosen specifically for their experience with graph drawing and information visualization. The authors' primary objectives were (1) to evaluate NodeXL as an SNA tool for a broad base of users and (2) to explore methods for teaching SNA. Our complementary dual case-study format demonstrates the usability of NodeXL for a diverse set of users, and significantly, the power of a tightly integrated metrics/visualization tool to spark insight and facilitate sensemaking for students of SNA.



IBM Research papers

This is a short list of publications by the researchers at IBM Visual Communication Lab who have been working on several innovative visualization projects in the last couple of years. Check out the research papers below!

Mapping Text with Phrase Nets - Mapping Text with Phrase Nets a conference paper by Frank van Ham, Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viégas, IBM Research (2009)

Participatory Visualization with Wordle - Participatory Visualization with Wordle by Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, and Jonathan Feinberg, IBM Research (2009)

Harnessing the Web Information Ecosystem with Wiki-based Visualization Dashboards - Harnessing the Web Information Ecosystem with Wiki-based Visualization Dashboards by Matt McKeon, IBM Research (2009)

Search, Show Context, Expand on Demand: Supporting Large Graph Exploration with Degree-of-Interest - "Search, Show Context, Expand on Demand": Supporting Large Graph Exploration with Degree-of-Interest by Frank van Ham, IBM-ILOG Research, Gentilly, France and Adam Perer, IBM Research, Haifa, Israel (2009)

Parallel Tag Clouds to Explore and Analyze Faceted Text Corpora - Parallel Tag Clouds to Explore and Analyze Faceted Text Corpora by Christopher Collins, University of Toronto, Fernanda B. Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, IBM Research (2009)

Collaborative Visualization - Collaborative Visualization by Frank van Ham and Fernanda B. Viégas, IBM Research (2009)


Online data visualization

50 Great Examples of Data Visualization - 50 Great Examples of Data Visualization is a great collection of online data visualization projects and useful visualization applications.

Real-time Web Monitor - Real-time Web Monitor by Akamai

16 Awesome Data Visualization Tools - 16 Awesome Data Visualization Tools - mashable.com (2007)


Wikipedia visualization

WikiViz - WikiViz is a Wikipedia visualization project by Chris Harrison showing some great sample renderings.

The SciMaps Wikipedia Project - a research site linking to several visualizations created by Bruce Herr, Todd Holloway, and Katy Börner at the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, Indiana University Bloomington

The Wiki Project Page of VisualComplexity.com - Chris Harrison's ClusterBall Project displayed at VisualComplexity.com

Visualizing the Power Struggle in Wikipedia - Visualizing the 'Power Struggle' in Wikipedia - a visualization project by Todd Holloway

Keyword and Topic Research with Wikipedia Visualization Tools - Keyword and Topic Research with Wikipedia Visualization Tools, a great article by Ann Smarty, Search Engine Journal (2009)



Applications Used for Visualizing Social Networks

Download Vizster - Download the Vizster Online Social Network Visualization Software from SourceForge

Prefuse - The Prefuse Information Visualization Toolkit is a set of software tools for creating rich interactive data visualizations, providing a visualization framework for the Java programming language. The prefuse flare toolkit provides visualization and animation tools for ActionScript and the Adobe Flash Player.

Large Graph Layout - Large Graph Layout from the University of Texas is a compendium of applications for making the visualization of large networks and trees tractable. LGL was specifically motivated by the need to make the visualization and exploration of large biological networks more accessible. Essentially the network is a graph, which is the data that you define, and LGL is responsible for showing it to you.

NetVis - NetVis Module - Dynamic Visualization of Social Networks The NetVis Module is a free open source web-based tool to analyze and visualize social networks using data from csv files, online surveys, and dispersed teams; created by Jonathon N. Cummings (2001)

NetVis Resource Page - a useful list of links to websites of other visualization projects, applications, network resarchers and institutions; compiled by Jonathon N. Cummings (2001)

A Survey of Internet Visualization Tools - A Survey of Internet Visualization Tools is an extensive collection of visualization tools designed for use by the general public in different fields, such as Demographics, Politics, Movies, News, Product Search and Social Networks; by graduate students of the University of Maryland

Download UCINET 6 for Windows (60 day free trial) - UCINET is a software for Social Network Analysis; Download a 60-day-free-trial of UCINET for Windows, Version 6; by Roberta Chase and Steve Borgatti, Analytic Technologies, Lexington, KY
Wikipedia's article on SNA software - a general list of existing software applications used for social network analysis (SNA) by social scientists. Some of these are also applicable for analyzing online social networks.

The Net-Map Toolbox - The Net-Map Toolbox is an influence mapping tool developed by Eva Schiffer. It's an offline visualization tool that can be used to build concepts for online social network visualization projects, too.

NEW! NodeXL - Network Overview, Discovery and Exploration for Excel - NodeXL is a network overview, discovery, and exploration add-on for Excel 2007. The tool allows for a quick, alternative way to visualize directed graphs and social networks within Excel. It provides several network metrics and manipulation features which can serve as an important testing tool for many Social Network Analysis (SNA) enthusiasts. Networks can also be directly imported from Twitter and personal email. Find a NodeXL Tutorial Guide with Supporting data sets for NodeXL here.

SoNIA - Social Network Image Animator - SoNIA is a Java-based package for visualizing dynamic or longitudinal "network" data. "Dynamic" means that in addition to information about the relations (ties) between various entities (actors, nodes) there is also information about when these relations occur, or at least the relative order in which they occur.

Fidg't Visualizer - The Fidg't Visualizer allows you to visualize your Network at FlickR or last.fm in a unique way, demonstrating its Predisposition towards certain things. What is more popular amongst people in your Network - rock or electronic music? Are photos of buildings more popular than photos of sunsets? Based on how your network reacts to those Tags, you might get an answer. The Visualizer also shows how your Network compares to a random sampling of the networks of other Fidg't users, letting you see how your network stacks up to others?

CiteSpace - CiteSpace is a freely available Java application for analyzing and visualizing scientific literature. CiteSpace is expanding its scope to include additional data sources such as summaries of NSF awards; by Chaomei Chen (2006)

Overlapper: movie analyzer - Overlapper is a visual analytics tool that incorporates different visualization techniques, besides the core force-directed graph, such as: scatterplot, parallel coordinates, treemap and tag cloud. The tool focus is in very connected groups of people and their overlapping between different social networks (such as movies). Overlapper was developed using a modified force-directed graph representing people as nodes, where all the people involved in a particular movie are joint together in a kind of bubble. Since the tool allows several movies to be mapped in the same space, the resulting environment is a large set of bubbles interconnected by people involved in more than one movie. Two important drawbacks of graph visualization are complexity and cluttering. In Overlapper, complexity is reduced by selecting only interesting subsets so only relevant information is displayed. Also, the authors used two edge models: the complete model, which join together all nodes of each film, and the radial model, which connects each person node to a central node representing the movie, reducing edge complexity. To avoid cluttering, edges are not drawn. Instead, transparent hulls group people who have been involved in the same movie. The tool has been tested with IMDB data sets and microarray bicluster analysis. Overlapper has also won the 1st place in the Social Networks category of the 2007 Graph Drawing Contest (15th International Symposium on Graph Drawing); by Roberto Theron, Rodrigo Santamaria, Juan Garcia, Diego Gomez, Vadim Paz-Madrid, University of Salamanca (2007)

Find more information about the Overlapper project here

Download the Overlapper paper here

SkyRails - Skyrails is a Social Network and Graph Visualization System with a built-in programming language; by Yose Widjaja, Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales (2007)


CommentFlow - Based on semaspace, the authors designed and implemented a flexible tool for the content driven exploration and visualization of a social network. Building upon a traditional force-directed network layout consisting of nodes (profiles) and edges (friend-links), the 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. ; by Dietmar Offenhuber, Judith Donath, MIT Media Lab (2007)

semaspace - SemaSpace is a fast and easy-to-use graph editor for large knowledge networks, designed for the application in non technical sciences and the arts. It creates interactive graph layouts in 2D and 3D by means of a flexible algorithm. The system is powerful enough for the calculation of complex networks and can incorporate additional data such as images, sounds and full texts; by Dietmar Offenhuber, Gerhard Dirmoser (2006)

Telligent Analytics 3.0 Community Analysis Platform - Telligent Analytics 3.0 is the first commercial community reporting tool with SNA built right in.

Many Eyes - Many Eyes is a great visualization tool developed by the Visual Communication Lab of IBM Research, providing lots of examples on the support website. The designs of the IBM Visual Communication Lab aim to transform visualization from a solitary activity into a collaborative one. Some application areas are citizen advocacy, social network analysis, software development, and executive decision-making. By allowing people to observe and orient themselves in complex information landscapes, their inventions enable faster, more insightful decisions.

Dundas Dashboards - the Dundas Dashboards Data Visualization Application

Social Graph Concepts and Issues - Social Graph Concepts and Issues, an article by Alex Iskold, ReadWriteWeb.org (2007)


Visualizing social bookmarks

Visualizing Social Bookmarks - Visualizing Social Bookmarks presents a cluster map visualization application which is customized to enable users to explore social bookmarks in del.icio.us. The design of the application aims to automatically identify tag and community structures, and visualizes these structures in order to increase the users' awareness of them; a research paper by Joris Klerkx, Erik Duval, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium (2006)


Organizations involved in visualization research

Centre for Advanced Visual Analytics - Located in Geneva, Switzerland, the Centre for Advanced Visual Analytics (CAVA) is dedicated to supporting UN Humanitarian and Development organizations in applying innovative methods of analysis and presentation of information. The Centre encourages collaborations on subjects of information visualization and visual analytics.

United Nations Geographical Information Working Group (UNGIWG) - The United Nations Geographical Information Working Group (UNGIWG) is a network of professionals working in the fields of cartography and geographic information science to building the UN Spatial Data Infrastructure needed to achieve sustainable development.

The Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland - The Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland has a long, rich history of transforming the experience people have with new technologies. From understanding user needs, to developing and evaluating those technologies, the lab’s faculty, staff, and students have been leading the way in HCI research and teaching.

Document, Image and Voice Analysis (DIVA) Group at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland - The DIVA research group at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland is active in many research fields dealing with multimedia engineering and data analysis.

Visual Analytics and Information Visualization Research Group at the Universidad de Salamanca - a research group devoted to the development of advanced tools that help users in understanding complex datasets coming from a variety of fields


Social Network Researchers

NEW! Find People Doing Social Network Research - a growing collection of links to researchers working in Social Network or Social Web-related areas.