It’s one of the classic small talk questions, coming up in such deep conversations as office team building exercises and low quality dates; and you are certain to have heard it before. “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be?”
But what if we looked back throughout your life and asked you this question every year? In some sense, an overview of your interests, values and priorities may begin to emerge. Where does the importance we place on these characteristics stem from and where do they lead? Our social network is one of the most valuable aspects of our lives, sharing new ideas and views for us to consider and learn from. Can you learn anything about yourself from visualizing a representational version of your network’s interests, values, and priorities?
This project by Federica Fragapane is an example of building separate “nodes” as an image and dataset within itself; and then compiling these into a broader network (in her case, a timeline). The way she uses an aesthetically pleasing shape to convey the data brings the viewer in for a closer inspection. She could have chosen to simply use the size of a circle instead of lines, however, it is possible more people will engage seeing a more unfamiliar shape. Her work straddles the line between aesthetics and readability in a successful way.
The question itself grew out of writing a personal bio. Trying to come up with a more interesting way of representing myself, I landed on this concept and from there, began to think about its implications and patterns that may exist across a social network.
Materials and Methods:
The data was collected through a poll of some family, close friends, and coworkers. They were asked the question, with no knowledge of how their answers would be interpreted. After all the answers had been collected from the 13 participants, themes were assigned to each dinner guest and then grouped together in order to establish the 18 nodes. See CSV files below to see how source and targets were established from these themes.
Creating radial diagrams:
The individual node radial diagrams were created in Gephi using the circular layout. Node colors were assigned by sector of theme, trying to group similar themes into similar hues. Their size was dictated by the degree to which the theme was on their list of dinner guests. Edge color was assigned by weight, which was age. Multiple iterations were made, as each individual created a new shape and the appearance characteristics of the template had to be adjusted to accommodate every individual in a uniform manner.
Creating social network diagram:
This was done in Illustrator as the data set was limited with only 14 participants. This is certainly a process that would be conducted in Gephi with more individuals polled, and set up as an undirected network.
Results and Interpretations:
This image explains the node layout and gives a case example (built from the dataset seen above). One of the challenges was maintaining the theme in the same area of the circle for each individual, while adjusting for the size of the node.
These are some of the possible individual shapes that emerged. While the eye is immediately drawn to the node location and size, the shape that is produced by the edges is perhaps even more representational of the individual. It is worth noting that this dataset is limited by age, everyone polled was between 22 and 34, so the edges shape is mostly normalized by this.
Here is a segment of my own social network, with my family, friends, and coworkers represented by their radial diagram. Note that these edges represent relationships, with their color using the same palate as the radial diagram themes. With a limited dataset, this is mostly just for interest, however, one could imagine the trends that may emerge over a larger polled population.
The folks I polled enjoyed the process, an excuse to think and reflect on themselves and how they have changed over the years. They seemed excited receiving an odd shape sent back to them with the key. It is was a good process to go through to observe the interest people have when they become an individual within the dataset and this is able to be visualized.
This lab introduced me to the basics of Gephi, and in some ways I am glad I started with a tiny data set for this process as changes were easier to understand and observe. That being said, it left many aspects of the software, such as filters, out for me in this lab and will need to return to those concepts later.
To continue this lab, a Google Form is needed to collect the information from a larger audience, and the themes could be assigned from Wikipedia, however, this turned out to be difficult on the first test as family, etc. are not listed on Wiki. I think a better method would be in the poll itself. After everyone has answered the questions without an understanding of the theme “bins”, save these results, and then have the participant asked which theme to categorize the dinner guest under.