Thanks to a Facebook Application called Friend Wheel, I could generate the visualization pictured above of my 9000+ Facebook friends (and still growing). It was kinda fun to look at; my friends are listing around the edges of the circle, and a line connects to people who are also friends of each other on facebook. The reds, oranges, and yellows are high school friends. The deep blues are Amazon.com friends. The greens and aquas and most of the rest are college friends.
I had dinner with my friend Steve McNally last night, who is roommates with my other friend Jake Tuck. Lisa asked me which one was I closer to. My response was that I had more history with Jake (we were housemates all through college, whereas Steve only lived in my house for half of college) but was probably closer to Steve since we shared a passion for baseball. Tough call, since Jake is a musician (as I am). Then Lisa asked me if they were friends with Will Paul. I said no, because Will is a hometown friend while Jake and Steve were college friends. So that got me into thinking about how to visual social networks and how inadequate two dimensions is.
Let’s try three dimensions. For the x- and y-axis, imagine an ideaspace – this is a plane that maps out the various interests people have, the hobbies they participate in, the fields they work in. So you have one circle for the friends you go to jazz concerts with, one circle for your photowalking friends, one for your baseball friends. The size of the circle is the number of mutual friends you have who share that interest. At the center, (0,0), is you. The circles in the plane are arranged such that the interests that are most passionate to you are closest to the center. Does this make sense? Two dimensional graph containing overlapping circles of various sizes, with the ones closest to center being of the most interest to you. Got it? Good.
Now for the third dimension, which is time. Over time, you will naturally transition environments. High school, college, work, living abroad, joining the local book club, marrying your spouse and meeting her friends and family, moving to the suburbs to raise a family, etc. Each of these events expands your social network and can form dense clumps. The third dimension in our visualization allows for the stacking of these clumps. It is more uncommon for connections to span the clumps, but it can happen and can be enlightening. I think seeing such a visualization would tell a lot about a person – what their interests are, who their friends are, and how have they changed over time. What’s your social network look like in three dimensions?