Animate your social graph with SoNIA


I was lucky enough to get some time with Professor Peter Mucha of UNC this week. He’s a goldmine of information on the academic side of network visualization and analysis, and one of the projects he clued me into was SoNIA.

One of the most exciting areas for visualization is animating over time. It’s an incredibly powerful way to demonstrate changes in an easy to understand way, but it’s also very hard to do. Building the tools is tough because dealing with time massively multiplies the amount of computation you need to do, and is a very tricky user-interface challenge too. SoNIA is an ambitious attempt to provide an open-source professional tool for animating network data.

It’s sponsored by Stanford, and developed by Skye Bender-deMoll and Dan McFarland. It’s designed to take data files that describe graphs at different states in time, and give you the control to lay out and animate those networks. It’s already been used for an impressive series of studies, you should check out the included movies there if you want to get an idea of what it’s capable of. One of the best known is the study illustrated above used the software to demonstrate how your social network and obesity were correlated.

It’s freely downloadable if you want to give it a try yourself, and I’d recommend starting with Dan’s quick start guide to understand how to use it. It offers a lot of control over the underlying algorithms, but don’t be daunted by the space shuttle control-panel style of the UI, it’s possible to create some interesting results using many of the default settings. I’m looking forward to applying this to some of the communication data I’m generating from email, animation is a great way to present the time data inherent in that information.

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