The Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR) is an important venue if you’re interested in, like the name indicates, Internet research. But it is also a good primary source if one wants to inquire into how and why people study the Internet, which aspects of it, etc. Conveniently for the lazy empirical researcher that I am, the AOIR has an archive of its mailing-list, which has about 22K mails posted by 3K addresses, enough for a little playing around with the impatient person’s tool, the algorithm. I have downloaded the data and I hope I can motivate some of my students to build something interesting with it, but I just had to put it into gephi right away. Some of the tools we’ll hopefully build will concentrate more on text mining but using an address as a node and a mail-reply relationship as a link, one can easily build a social graph.

I would like to take this example as an occasion to show how different algorithms can produce quite different views on the same data:

So, these are the air-l posters with more than 60 messages posted since 2001. Node size indicates the number of posts, a node’s color (from blue to red) shows its connectivity in the graph (click on the image to see a much larger version). Link strength, i.e. number of replies between two people, is taken into account. You can download the full .gdf here. The only difference between the four graphs is the layout algorithm used (Force Atlas, Force Atlas with attraction distribution, Yifan Hu, and Fruchterman Reingold). You can instantly notice that Yifan Hu pushes nodes with low link count much more strongly to the periphery than the others, while Fruchterman Reingold as always keeps its symmetrical sphere shape, suggesting a more harmonious picture than the rest. Force Atlas’ attraction distribution feature will try to differentiate between hubs and authorities, pushing the former to the periphery while keeping the latter in the center; just compare Barry Wellman’s position over the different graphs.

I’ll probably repeat this experiment with a more segmented graph, but I think this already shows that layout algorithms are not just innocently rendering a graph readable. Every method puts some features of the graph to the forefront and the capacity for critical reading is as important as the willingness for “critical use” that does not gloss over the differences in tools used.

Post filed under algorithms, epistemolgy, network theory, social networks, softwareproject.

5 Comments

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  2. Very interesting!
    I have two questions:
    1) how do you download the archive?
    2) how do you input the archive to gephi?

    Thanks!

  3. Hi Paolo,

    Well to download the mailman archive, you have to program a crawler that parses the HTML and puts the content into a database and then you have to write another script that interprets the text structure to find reply relationships and creates a .gdf file. The code I wrote will be made available later and you’ll be able to use it on any mailman archive.

    For the moment, just download the .gdf from the link above (right click, save as) and open it in gephi directly…

    cheers,
    B.

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