Friday, December 30, 2011

Get your Facebook network visualized (properly and without anyone stealing your data)

Many of you who read this have had a blob like this created to "visualize" your network of facebook friends:

In my opinion, hideous and useless. When you could have something scalable, informative and beautiful like this:

I'd like to briefly tell you how to get your own graph like that. Because it is so much more flexible it has not been packaged as easily accessible as myFnetwork, but connect with me and I can guide you or show you how it's done through screen sharing.

  1. Download the data necessary, through the netvizz app
  2. Install the Gephi application (available for most platforms) to crunch and style the data
  3. Export to PDF to explore and enjoy, or even print your own nerdy large-format poster. Done!
The details of how to use Gephi are in this tutorial (or this, the tutorial is more convoluted but it's a generally more interesting site).

From my friends network you can intuitively see a number of interesting things, it's a sort of picture of my social life. If tweaked and run according to different parameters (interests, gender, other groups) the sky is the limit for what you can discover using such statistical tools. They can tell things about your group, or people you want to learn about - I keep some of my experiments in this gallery.

Now, I can't tell for sure why apps like myFnetwork only give you such a hideous result, but I have been told that the prime motivation for providing any small facebook apps like that is to access and resell your information. Facebook in themselves are marginally better keepers of it, and in principle netvizz (the app I use to download the data) may be as bad too, but at least they don't give me bullshit trinkets which are supposed to keep me happy and attract attention from my connections.

LinkedIn also created a similar visualization they call inmaps - much nicer though and they don't run it off Gephi but borrowed everything from it's style. My professional graph you can see here. My idol Joi Ito has a great video having it demonstrated to him personally here:

What are you waiting for? Be the big brother and process the information you have access to, I for sure intend to further experiment with these things, so stay posted!