MAS965: Social Visualization
Assignment 1 - Social Networks
Sept 13, 2004

Francis Lam

Write a short essay discussing/critiquing the work of Moreno (in Freeman), Mark Lombardi, and another piece of your choosing. You will want to discuss whether the images are legible, whether the information given is well encoded, etc. Are the features described in Garton et al visible? Which are and which are not? How would you depict them if they are not visible (please illustrate your response)

I will discuss the work of Jacob L. Moreno, Mark Lombardi, and Josh On's They Rule in the aspect of social network visualization with some fundamental knowledge based on Garton, Haythornthwaite and Wellman's article Studying online social networks.

Moreno's work

Moreno used points and lines in his social graphs to reveal the pattern of the relations among a group of social actors. His graphs consist of a set of points, representing social actors, along with a set of lines connecting pairs of points depicting the social structure of the group. At a glimpse, the visual images that he produced are legible for, first, getting a general picture of the structural pattern of the group, which means groups and clusters are clearly recognized; and second, the relation between two social actors, he used directed arrows to visualize the direction of the activities and behaviors occurred between two entities.

Yet additional information about the structural properties is conveyed from deeper observation of his graphs, he often used different shapes of points to denote characteristics of social actors and varied the positions of points to illustrate extra structural information of activities among the social actors. He also suggested using different colors on the same graph (multigraph) to depict multiple social meanings in a single layout.

According to the features described in Garton et al, Moreno's work depicts adequately the pattern of relations among social actors and the flow of information. Networks are partitioned into different groups according to the stickiness and similarities of the group members to create network of networks. Moreover, social roles can be visualized by the directed arrow and the color of the lines connecting two persons. However, he seems to fail to visualize the strength of a relation - how frequent and how long the relation has maintained and by which medium the relation has maintained. Figure 1 is an example of visualizing the strength of a relation by the thickness of the line connecting two social actors.

Lombardi's work

Lombardi's work is well designed, sensually and aesthetically compelling, and surprisingly informative. In his drawings, spatial relations are cleared mapped into some secret deals and suspect associations of financiers, politicians, corporations and governments. Not only social actors are drawn as a node in his work, but also events, for example, ˇ§Two weeks later Saddam Hussein invades Kuwaitˇ¨ is marked on the work George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens. Besides using lines to represent relations connecting entities, he also used them to depict special flow of resources. Dotted lines and broken arrows were used to chart the paths of illicit deals and laundered money with the exact amount written above the line. It conveys a boarder scope of information such as tangible resource.

Time is another distinctive element to make his drawings even more legible, in the same drawing mentioned above, the positions of the nodes follow a time-line, with dates arrayed across three horizontal tiers. All the players and events were rendered in orbits to create an aesthetic balance and the whole piece unveils some public conspiracies artistically and technically.

Visible features of social networks, which mentioned by Garton et al, of Lombardi's work include social range, centrality and roles. Apparently, most of the Lombardi's masterpieces cover players in wide range with high heterogeneity; those social actors are cross-national and scattered around different fields of the society. It is observable that they play different roles in the rendered social network through different in and out relations to execute covert trades. A person, who is a center of the network, is legible in Lombardi's drawings, it is very important as by identifying the central role, the final benefited person and the key person of the conspiracy will be uncloaked. On the other hand, Lombardi preferred using textual representation of members in the group rather than using graphical icons. Thus the information conveyed is more detailed but the viewers need to have a closer look to recognize the primary roles and behaviors of the members.

Josh On's They Rule

They Rule is another political art using social visualization as a mean of communication and collaboration. Technically, it is an online visualization tool to limn the relationships of the US ruling class. Users can browse, search, create and save the relations between the board members of the top US corporations through an online interface. Results could be provocative after revealing the interlocking relationships of the companies. Users can also add annotations to his/her piece or start creating another image based on someone's submission. There are two crucial differences between They Rule and the above examples: the extensive use of graphical icons, and the capability of collaboration and sharing.

There are two groups of icons that can be used, organization and member. Organization can be corporation, institute or government while member specifies the gender of board directors. Together with captions below the icons, it can lucidly show the social characteristics and the underlying information of the visualized network, such as the gender distribution among the boards, anyone who sits on more than one board of the top companies, where the directors of opponent companies will meet, how the current political situation relates with the companies and the government. The higher the heterogeneity of the members, the more complicated and provocative is the social network which is appeared to be ruling the majority of the national's economy. They Rule visualize a network that is ironic yet realistic, and the information it conveys is direct and with large impact.

On's work makes best use of the Internet by providing the capability of collaboration and sharing. Users can create their own social networks to raise questions and reflect attitudes. It also provides the platform for discussion and sharing, you can add annotations and links to your image, and send it to others.

Visible features of social networks of Garton et al found in They Rule include positional factor, centrality and range of the network; however, social roles, behaviors and strength of the relations are hardly expressed. To implement those features that are not visible, my suggestion is to create another dimension for member icons on top of gender. Member icons could be illustrated as different board member titles to depict their role, responsibility and authority.

Draw a network diagram of your family, friends and acquaintances. Aim to have between 30 and 60 (or more) people in your network - you may want to start with people you think of offhand, then run through a contact list to get a range of additional names from different contexts. Show connections among those people whom you know know each other. As you draw the diagram, think about where you are placing people - how have you grouped them, what meaning, if any, are you giving to adjacency or top/bottom? Go beyond the basic depiction of generic nodes and links. What do you want to say about the relationship between people? Is quantity of interaction important? How long the relationship has existed? The topics that the people have in common? What kind of relationship is it - is it formal? intimate? work-based? family? Think about what information you would like to depict by changing the node (it's shape, color, etc.) and what you would like to show by changing the link (it's thickness, color, curve, etc).

The goal of this work is to create something like a self-portrait in network connections. Does the final image reflect the mental model you have of your social surroundings?

Before drawing my network diagram, I tried to gather a list of people I was frequently in touch with before I came to Cambridge from Hong Kong. And then I divided them into five categories:

List of people around me in Hong Kong:

Friends: Raymond, Pan, Rex, Sam, Riz, Minnie, Benny, Henry, Dennis, Chau, Martin, Amber, Aka, Jonathon, Kei, Elaine, Sic, Luar, Javin, Wesley, Eddy.

Family: Mother, Aunt, Cousin, Grandfather, Grandmother, Girlfriend, Godfather.

University schoolmates: Audrey, Daniel, Sharon, Virginia, Kitty, Doris, Pluto, Queenie, Angel, Regina, Cheung Lik, Stephanie.

Secondary schoolmates: Kelvin, Ken, Alex, Alvin, Chris.

Colleagues: SK, Sai Chuen, Andrew, Biu, Topaz, Fion, Violet, Yasuhiro, John, Chong, Mamata.

Next I recalled my memory about how frequent I communicated with them and what kind of ways we interacted with each other, are they face-to-face conversations or merely through instant messaging agents? I also record the gender distribution of the people in the network. Below is another list divided into male and female, and the numbers in brackets are the frequency of communication (1: least; 10: most) and the medium of communication (1: purely digital; 10: purely face-to-face).

Male: Raymond (8,9), Pan(5,5), Rex (10,5), Sam (10,5), Benny (7, 4), Henry (8,5), Dennis (2,9), Chau(8,2), Martin(2,10), Aka(1,1), Jonathon(10,1), Sic(5,10), Luar(6,2), Javin(2,2), Wesley(8,6), Eddy(4,4), Grandfather(1,10), David (10,10), Daniel (2,1), Pluto(1,1), Kelvin(3,5), Ken(10,5), Alex(2,5), Alvin(3,5), Chris(1,1), Yasuhiro(6,5), John(5,5), SK(7,8), Sai Chuen(5,8), Andrew(5,5), Biu(7,8)

Female: Riz(5,8), Minnie(7,10), Amber (7,10), Kei(6,1), Elaine(6,8), Mother(10,10), Aunt (4,10), Cousin(3,10), Grandmother(1,10), Girlfriend(10,5), Audrey(5,2), Sharon(3,1), Virginia(3,2), Kitty(5,2), Doris(3,2), Queenie(3,2), Angel(5,1), Regina(2,1), Violet(2,8), Cheung Lik(5,5), Chong(3,10), Stephanie(6,10), Topaz(2,1), Fion(4,2), Mamata(5,10)

I visualize the network diagram by placing myself in the center and use lines to connect the people around me. The members in the diagram are positioned together with the same category. Categories with higher relationships are located next to each other, for instance, my colleagues and friends are highly dependent and the boundary between them is fuzzy. The distance of the individual on the diagram from me represents the frequency of interactions we had in the past couple of months, The close the relation we had, the close we are on the diagram. The opacity of the lines means the relation between computer-mediated communication and face-to-face interaction, the brighter the line is, the higher occurrence did I meet the person. Also, the color of each member tells which categories the person belongs to and the shape tells the gender.

My social network diagram:

Some characteristics derived from the diagram:

1. I have closer relationships with my friends than with my schoolmates and the interlocking relationships within my friends are relatively strong.

2. The connections with my schoolmates were most likely of computer-mediated media, which is the opposite as with my family.

3. The female members in my social network are mostly my schoolmates, while males are the majority in my workplace and friendˇ¦s group.

4. The animation of the nodes denotes that how long I have known the person.

5. After I moved from Hong Kong to Cambridge, connections with my social network group in Hong Kong still exist, however, they all changed to digital communication.

6. Through the interactive depiction of switching my social networks from Hong Kong to Cambridge, the number of members in my network decreases and most of the people change the way they interact with me by means of digital communications. Eventually, I want to express a feeling of loneliness and isolation during the first few weeks of migration.