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Software The Internet

New Social-Network Mapping Tools Compared 79

Roland Piquepaille writes "There are many new visualization tools around us which try to map our social networks. In this column, I examined Inflow, a datamining tool digging through your email repository to discover and find trends to know more about your networks. Here is a quote: "Assuming you have a significant amount of e-mail traffic, the software will create a remarkably sophisticated assessment of your various social groups, showing you not only their relative size but also the interactions between different groups." I also peeked at TouchGraph GoogleBrowser, which uses Amazon or Google Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to visually describe how books and Web sites connect with one another. Finally, I took a look at a brand new way of visualizing Google search results, from anacubis. If you know about other similar new tools, please tell me and I'll gather your comments in a future story."
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New Social-Network Mapping Tools Compared

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:18PM (#5521198)
    Due to the high number of links to such sites within, Slashdot is incredibly close to sites such as goatse.cx and tubgirl.
  • ... if are discovered reading my emails, surely will be spammers and mailing list administrators.
  • Spammers? (Score:5, Funny)

    by eric434 ( 161022 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:21PM (#5521218) Homepage
    OK, so if I run that on my email inbox, I guess it'll tell me I have some long-running business relationships with penis enlargement companies, herbal viagra distributors, and various shady people in Nigeria...
    • ...Or InFlow will assume you're a white-collar criminal with a small johnson.
    • by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:09PM (#5521748) Journal
      OK, so if I run that on my email inbox, I guess it'll tell me I have some long-running business relationships with penis enlargement companies, herbal viagra distributors, and various shady people in Nigeria...

      If a tool like this is intended to be anywhere remotely useful, it would look at incoming and outgoing emails. Two people that have no two-way communication would, I imagine, be rather unconnected.

      Finally, running this on the email inbox of a single person would be quite useless. You'd get a hub with spokes coming out. Whee. The real purpose of something like this is when you can run it on a massive collection of everyone's email throughout an organization. At this point, it starts to become a bit of a privacy issue. I mean, people on Slashdot scream horribly when the FBI thinks about doing something like this, but the moment the local network admin (someone who I in general would far *less* rather have digging through my email, and who I personally feel has much less right to do so) starts running social analysis software, it's okay because it's "neat". Sigh.
      • There's an important difference: permission. If the NSA want to map the social networks of e-mail and telephone communications in Britain (as indeed they do [apc.org]) then I have a problem with that: I don't want anyone collecting or using this information without my permission. If the e-mail gods at the college where I work suggested mapping social networks within the college's e-mail system, and a load of us thought it would be an interesting project, we've all agreed, so it's "neat".
    • Just hope that this technology doesn't allow the government to access this kind of data or you'll be in lots of trouble with the IRS.
  • I dunno about you; but I'm sure just a quick look at the way I group my instant messenger buddy lists, and which IRC rooms I prefer to chat and hang out in would go a long way to indicate how my social relationships are grouped.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:22PM (#5521222)
    consists of $$exy $luts, people who get rich quick, and guys who have large pumped up organs.
  • Assuming you have a significant amount of e-mail traffic, the software will create a remarkably sophisticated assessment of your various social groups...

    After analyzing my email, I have determined that my social group is comprised of a large number of penis enlargement professionals.

  • POV-Picture style. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Well this is interesting, but only half the equation. How does one interpret these graphs? Without that these are just pretty pictures.
  • by ayf6 ( 112477 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:27PM (#5521238) Homepage
    In a recent (i believe 2 months ago) Dr. Dobbs there was an article about just this type of application. There was an article written by one of the top social enginners of applications like this. He was one of the people responsible for doing the Amazon "like this you'd like that" feature.
  • by Captain Beefheart ( 628365 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:30PM (#5521250)
    "Considering that more than two thirds of our brain cells are dedicated on vision, these tools make sense."

    Erm, no offense, but I don't think A necessarily follows B here. Putting abstract constructs in visual terms doesn't automatically overcome the fact that you're still dealing with abstract constructs.

    • Where does the author get his stat on proportion of brain cells dedicated to vision?! This is wrong. Visual cortex is in the occipital lobe, and areas V1 - V5 could be said to be "dedicated to vision." Other areas, moving into the parietal and temporal lobes are involved with visual cognition, but much of those, and the frontal lobes, are NOT involved with vision at all. Not to mention all the non-cortical areas of the brain, some of which are used for early visual connection between the retinas and the vis
  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:31PM (#5521253) Homepage Journal
    I think Kartoo [kartoo.com] also give a graphical view of search results, but I don't know if it do the kind of mapping or relationship that do the TouchGraph GoogleBrowser or anacubis.

    Anyway, this seems to be a next step in the evolution of search engines, not giving URLs that matches queries, but relating them, showing the relationship between actual data and ubication in internet.

    • i found the Knowledge Navigator interface in Encyclopedia Brittanica more intuitive and useful than Kartoo... if we can compare the internet to an encyclopedia in some way, then perhaps, Kartoo and TouchGraph have something to learn from the Enc. Brit. UI
  • Well, thats nice. No download links for InFlow so we can test it ourselves.
  • by Whatsthiswhatsthis ( 466781 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:32PM (#5521259)
    But here are the two most important questions:

    1) How will this prevent spam?


    2) How will it stop terrorism?

    As soon as it stops spam and terrorism, I'm ready to invest.
    • by Whatsthiswhatsthis ( 466781 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:38PM (#5521271)
      I rest my case:

      "Intelligence analysts once assumed that terrorists organize in isolated cells. But social-network maps revealed that the 9/11 hijackers' cells morphed into a hub-and-spoke pattern with an obvious leader: Mohammed Atta. The active structure resembled that of an IBM project team." from discover.com [discover.com]

      This raises a serious question: What is this "IBM" and what kind of "project" are they planning?
    • by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:02PM (#5521731) Homepage
      Whatsthiswhatsthis writes:
      "As soon as it stops spam and terrorism, I'm ready to invest."

      I'm not buying it until it supports the Ogg format.
    • It already is being used. Network analysis (NA) and visualization tools are being used in parts of the government to look at everything from criminal organizations to terrorists. The three biggest hurdles for the government (or for that matter a company that wants to use NA tools for commercial purposes): -- Computing resources and visualization techniques. Only fairly recently has computing power, storage, and graphics capability have gotten to the point where you can deploy these tools in the hands of
  • by wackybrit ( 321117 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:35PM (#5521264) Homepage Journal
    New Social-Network Mapping Tools Compared

    Oh, come on. This is Slashdot!

    Some great technology and concepts exist within social-network mapping tools, but really it's totally useless to us geeks. Our social maps are built up like this:

    Computer <--(attachment)--> Geek

    Some of the slightly more warped geeks here have it like this:

    Wife <--(guardian/moderator)--> Computer
    | (controlled via sex)
    Chump (a.k.a. geek)
  • I wonder whether they'll finally be able to disprove the six (or however many) degrees of separation.

    Then again, most people will probably have a connection to Nigeria due to the certain organ-lengthening drug that they are so famous for.
    • I wonder whether they'll finally be able to disprove the six (or however many) degrees of separation.

      Hum, the hypothesis that everybody knows everybody else within 6 degrees of separation.

      Clearly, this is false because some people know no others.

      • Of course EVERYONE doesn't know everybody else within 6 degrees of separation (or even n degrees); but this is a well known fact. saying everyone is just a gross over-simplification of network theory. in any case, there is some reason to believe that the originator (or the one who popularized it) of theory whats'his'name doctored his data. wish i could remember where i read that. sorry.

        but in any case, many networks have a high degree of connectivity, and because some individuals know many many people, e

  • by Robotech_Master ( 14247 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:46PM (#5521301) Homepage Journal
    I was just wondering if anyone's come up with a free/open equivalent of InFlow, which is apparently commercial software (and probably Windows-only)? It'd be interesting to run it on my vast volumes of mail, but I run Linux...
  • by Tuxinatorium ( 463682 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @07:47PM (#5521302) Homepage
    This software looks great, but how do you visualize a beowulf cluster of Linux geeks in Soviet Russia discussing the death of *BSD and proclaiming that all of your OH- ions belong to them?

    On second thought, maybe I don't want to visualize that...
  • The mere fact of thinking about using such a tool is enough to know you are a geek. Sorry.
  • Heh! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Dthoma ( 593797 )
    I liked one of the examples [orgnet.com] they give! (Warning: only maths nerds will find this funny.)
  • ...another half an hour spent exploring stuff I knew nothing about.

    Interesting stuff, I wonder if there is any benefit in assigning values to (a) the length of replies, and (b) whether communication is one way or two way. The president of my company writes to me (well, and everyone else) once a week, but I don't reply! In a large organisation it would be useful, but not nice, to link email based analysis in with phone calls, meeting attendances, and so on.

  • Social networks... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by megazoid81 ( 573094 )
    How is the sexual life of geeks, crackerz and other members of the Internet underground documented? Check this [attrition.org] out. A Wired story [wired.com] about this too!
  • ... these wonderful technologies that we develop (hw / sw / net / etc.) could actually truly _help_ people?

    Seriously -- this seems to be the aim of so many developments, to "help make the world a better place via this-and-that," but as an engineer -- and also a human being -- living in these times, it's sometimes hard to really believe that we are improving things on a human level.

    So if technology is developed that can actually help people identify with themselves and others, if software can assist in

  • ... is this different from data mining cookies such as doubleclick and the like? Sounds like privacy invasion to me...
  • by ralphus ( 577885 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @08:21PM (#5521417)
    Anyone at Blackhat [blackhat.com] last year and happen to see the presentation [blackhat.com] at lunch on Non Obvious Relational Awareness [srdnet.com]?

    This was a truly scary demonstration of this kind of technology being used by private industry, namely casinos, to track relationships between people.

    Real stream available at: rtsp://media-1.datamerica.com/blackhat/bh-usa-02/v ideo/BH-USA-02-JEFF-JONAS.rm

  • by orgnet ( 575748 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @08:44PM (#5521506) Homepage
    Thank you Roland for the write-up on InFlow on your weblog!

    Unfortunately there are some errors...
    1) I am not a former IBM'er... they were my first major client.
    2) It did not take me 15 years to write the software... the first working version [w/o visuals] was written in 2 weekends in 1987... on a 512K Macintosh... using Prolog. Yes, now it is commercial, used mostly by management consultants, on Windows. I also use it with VPC6 on my Powerbook.
    3) InFlow can process data from email traffic to find patterns and paths, but the paragraph you quote is about the OTHER product in the article -- MIT Media Lab's "Social Network Fragments" -- a very cool tool.

    Looking at just your own email[in/out] will not tell you much [except that it is 40% spam]. You need to look at the email flows between project team members, co-workers, communities of interest, etc. At least 20 participants before interesting patterns emerge...

    Most of our data is collected via on-line surveys -- people participate knowingly. Most survey participants are very eager to see the resulting maps -- they want to see where they, and their friends ended up.

  • Where do I download this? I have several abandoned account with 5000+ messages in the inbox to test.
  • by descil ( 119554 ) <teraten@nOsPam.hotmail.com> on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:19PM (#5521622)
    This kind of a thing could potentially be used as a more sophisticated "exclusive filter" to counter spam propogation - emails that do not appear connected to a social network could simply be blocked entirely. This would require the "social network" to require two-way links - thus sending an email would not create a connection between two people, but sending and receiving an email would.

    In any case, it's another way to look at spam protection.
  • Some scam-happy groups/individuals, individuals who are getting rich quick, people with a better sex life (and penis size!) due to some drug, and those who've lost 20 pounds overnight likewise. Ya think maybe I should run my anti-spam tools *before* the social map analyzer?

  • Not sure exactly what they use but it was fun to see how this new engine Vivisimo [vivisimo.com] grouped both very broad topics and specific ones. Put your name in and see what it brings up and how it classifies it. Might be interesting.

  • by fruscica ( 637745 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:52PM (#5521700) Homepage Journal
    Online dating is big business. Consider:
    • 26M Americans visited an online dating site during 12/02

    • "Personals Comprise the Largest Paid Content Category on the Internet: According to a [12/02] study...the Personals category grew 387 percent to become the largest online paid content category among consumers in the third quarter of 2002, surpassing Business Content." (source: comScore Media Metrix)

    • "'I have 43 employees, and we'll bring in $43 million this year. That's $1 million per employee,' [uDate president Martin] Clifford said. 'We have zero cost of sales within our business ...The margins are almost super-margins.'" (source: MSNBC.com)

    Google+Blogger is an ideal combination for serving this market.

    Here's how I think Go_Ogle will happen:

    Soon, Google will improve the searchability of "blogspace" by making it easy for bloggers to annotate their blogs with information about themselves and their blogger friends. This information will be encoded in an RDF dialect called FOAF (Friend of a Friend).

    It will then dawn on people that the FOAF file is effectively a static online profile, while the associated blog is akin to a living profile (in the 'living document' sense).

    With this, Googling people will come to encompass both researching people you have met -- already a common practice -- and researching people you would like to meet.

    The upside potential of this, as introduced above, will prove too substantial for IPO-bound Google to ignore. (In addition, I believe leadership of the market for online matchmaking software is the gateway to early leadership of the market for lifelong learning and career services, which will be worth hundreds of trillions of dollars in the coming decades. Toward understanding the relationship between the two markets, consider: according to a recent American Demographics survey, couples in the U.S. meet primarily at work (36%) or school (27%). More on 'online dating software -> LLCS' here [opportunityservices.com]).

    Google will then acquire the best makers of RDF query tools and launch Go_Ogle, the mother of all online dating sites.

  • by SLot ( 82781 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:11PM (#5521752) Homepage Journal
    With an open source tool instead.

    Etherape [sourceforge.net]

    Can't believe the author left that one out.

  • by revmoo ( 652952 ) <slashdot@@@meep...ws> on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:11PM (#5521754) Homepage Journal
    One thing I really wish google would implement is some sort of result-moderation system. People could sign up, and would be able to moderate search results, so that when other people searched for the same thing, higher rated results would appear towards the top. I think it would cut down on a lot of porn spamming and such that is extremely common on google. Some things, you just *can't* search for, because the results are so badly spammed by porn sites.

  • Pajek (Score:2, Insightful)

    The only thing I have played with to map social networks is Pajek.

    I was inspired to mess with this a little at school after being inspired by the book _Linked_. It worked OK, and there was some literature about it on the web.
  • Once I get my map together, I can track down those people I associate with who know other people I associate with without my permission. I mean damn people, who the hell said you could know each other without me, "THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE!" introducing you!!!!!!
  • Texas has a budget crisis? Suuuure... I'm getting 18 thousand dollars a year and a tuition waver to attend math grad school at UT next year. I don't even have to teach.

    And, frell, I walk into the marble corridors of the business building and feel poor no matter what.

  • Try visualthesaurus: visualthesaurus.com, a web-based visualization tool for exploring how words are related to each other in extra dimensions. Looks very cool!
  • Do you have everyones email you know? - some dont even have email adresses - for me this is useless
  • ...it says my best friend is a widow from Nigeria...

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller