Friday, November 16, 2012

Living large in a tiny house

Part of the point of building a tiny house has been for us to have affordable housing while I have been a PhD student at the University of Washington. But there have been unexpected perks. One of which is focus. A by product of down-sizing is that I have less stuff to distract me, which has meant that I have more focus that I can apply to things that are important to me. One of which has been my education. So what do I study? Networks.

A post I did on this blog a while ago provided a very brief network analysis of the tiny house blog network. More recently I have been working in the SOcial MEdia Lab at the University of Washington's iSchool to visualize Twitter retweet networks. Retweet networks are networks that arise out of the data traces that are left when one person retweets another person. By visualizing these networks researchers can better understand human communication on these new social platforms - like Twitter.

If you have ever taken a basic statistics class you can imagine how this might work. Statisticians have long encouraged students to make plots of their data as a tool for helping them make sense out of their data. The very process of making a visualization requires interacting with the data in ways that can help students better understand what is in the data. Of course, without understanding histograms and distributions the plot to the left isn't going to make much sense, but that is part of the learning process. And it is exactly what I have been doing for the last few years: learning about networks.

I wrote a blog post recently about whether or not network graphs were art or useful data visualization. In that post I briefly talk about some of the things that can be gleaned from inspecting a network plot. I also just wrote a post about some of the challenges of interpreting network visualizations. But I know that I am also drawn to the aesthetic appeal of these graphics. My most recent effort has been to animate a retweet network over time to show the dynamic nature of these types of networks. I have embedded it here just for fun.

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