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LifeCampTO social graph

After LifeCampTO, I asked people to give me the list of people they wanted to talk to (or, well, those people’s primary keys ;) ). I’m still figuring out how to do a great little mail merge that reminds people of the keywords, but along the way, I thought I might I’d learn more about network visualization.

Here’s the resulting graph: (click on it for a larger version)

LifeCampTO social graph

So, what does this graph say?

You can see that most people have quite a lot of follow-up conversations ahead. It wasn’t the kind of event where most people walked away with only two or three conversations, although they might have smaller follow-up conversations with different groups of people. It might be interesting to do some cluster analysis around topics, and maybe someday I’ll figure out how to encode the data in order to make that analysis easier. ;) Based on this, our on-the-fly decision to have three big conversations turned out to have made sense, although it would also be interesting to try having small conversations about both popular and niche topics, and then having people come together at the end (or on a wiki).

Getting to this graph (and to the individualized graphs I’ve just figured out how to produce – it highlights each person’s connections) involved a lot of bubblegum and string.

  1. I typed in the data people had written down, using OpenOffice.org to form the upper triangle of an adjacency matrix. Two people’s sheets were missing, and one person didn’t have any connections incoming or outgoing. =( Thank you, programming competitions, for all those lovely data structures.
  2. I copied the adjacency matrix and pasted it onto itself using OOo’s Paste Special – Transpose, Skip Empty Cells. This gave me a full adjacency matrix.
  3. I used a really long and hairy OOo formula to concatenate the cells into Emacs Lisp code as an associative list, with extra information and an edge list.
  4. I copied that into Emacs and processed the associative list’s edges. I needed to do that anyway in order to be able to e-mail people personalized e-mail with all of their introductions, instead of sending one e-mail per edge. Along the way, I got the idea of visualizing the network diagram, so I spun off some code to output a full edge list in DOT format for visualization with circo.
  5. I used a command like
    circo -Gsplines=true < lifecampto.dot -Tpng > lifecampto.png

    to generate the graph shown.

  6. Then I thought it would be cool to personalize the graphs, too, so I wrote some more Emacs Lisp to generate personalized DOT files that highlighted the recipient in green and the recipient’s requested links/nodes in green, too. I used a Bash for loop to turn all those personalized DOT files into PNG files.

Example of a personalized image:

Tomorrow, I’ll work on the mail merge. =)

A little computer science is a dangerous, dangerous thing.


So I’m not completely hopeless after all… ;) Hanging out with
uber-geeks at events such as the International Game Developers
Association social last night has made me feel really non-technical,
but a full day of good hacking’s made me feel okay again. I finally
got the hang of the prefuse visualization library for Java. It didn’t
have documentation and it doesn’t have much of a Google footprint, but
I used my mad source-reading skills to piece things together, cobbling
together pieces from different demos and diving through the API for
things I know should be there.

Java was, as usual, a pain to deal with, cross-platform – version
incompatibilities with my browser plugin at the beginning! – but after
a lot of searching, I finally got that all sorted out. I was very
happy to get the visualizations to work, and a couple of people in the
Cambridge lab had fun with it too.

It’s good that I’ve found something for drawing polished, interactive
visualizations. =) All I need to do now is learn graphviz so that I
can also be an ubercool researcher. ;)

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Random Japanese sentence: 猫は驚いて飛び上がった。 The cat jumped in surprise.

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March 9, 2010 – Thanks to Courtney Barnett for the update!