Visualizing Relationships

People relate to data in different ways.  I’m very much a visual learner and putting data in charts, graphs, or other sorts of illustrations help me understand, absorb, and put the information into context.  I’ve also found it useful to track data that is important to me.  Many people use tools like this – think of exercise logs to keep track of your progress towards fitness goals.  Several companies now provide software solutions that make it easier for people to tabulate whatever it is they want to tabulate, then turn it into graphs and charts.

Recently, I tried out an application from TouchGraph, a New York-based company that specializes in visualization tools and they created this Facebook application as an experiment to demonstrate the capabilities of their technology.  Other companies that provide other visual relationship applications include LinkedIn and  After entering your username and password – TouchGraph accesses your information only with your permission – they application generates a variety of charts to map the relationships of your Facebook friends. 

TouchGraph 100 TouchGraph 200 TouchGraph 300 TouchGraph 500 TouchGraph All

Here are thumbnails of increasing numbers of my Facebook friends, from my 100 “top friends” on the left (no explanation on what constitutes a “top friend” in TouchGraph’s scheme of things) to all of my more than 600 Facebook friends on the right.  I’m fascinated to watch how the groupings make small shifts as more people, and thus more relationships, are factored into the graphic.

TouchGraph 300 - Annotated

I also found it interesting just to observe how these relationships are mapped out.  Using the 300 friends setting, I found nine primary identifiable groups from which my relationships arise.  AMC Theatres was my first real job after being a newspaper delivery boy and I continued working with the company through university and even for several years after.  Needless to say, a lot of my connections were made there. 

One area that is missing is a significant number of friends from post-secondary school.  I changed schools twice en route to my degree, and only lived on campus for six months total, so my number of university friends is less than a dozen.

What’s also interesting to me is the California-centric nature of my contacts!  No surprise, I suppose, given that I grew up in the Bay Area and lived in Southern California several times.  But everyone to the left and above the dashed line is pretty much in California or else that’s where I originally knew them.

Anyhow, that’s more than you probably wanted to know about my life.  I found it interesting, though. 


23 thoughts on “Visualizing Relationships

  1. This resembles some sort of scientific project to classify friends into certain groups. Clearly, there is always someone out there full of new ideas!

  2. interesting!! that’s awesome to see how many people are just connected – I will try to see how different people are connected through me and how I am connected through different people – that’s awesome – thanks for sharing…

  3. @Dezinerdreams – Thanks for recomending that fantastic article.  Design at its best.@alwateen – The interconnectivity is very interesting, isn’t it?@Passionflwr86 – It is psychological, too.  Good observation.@CurryPuffy – Definitely has a scientific element.@The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – The relationships in our lives really do paint a picture of ourselves, don’t they?@Fatcat723 – Something for you to do with your free time, right?  =D@jace1982 – @Randy7777 – Neat to visualize, isn’t it? 

  4. I see me on the way bottom! I’m only connected to Colin? haha.In my I/O courses I actually did a study on this type of graph. Very useful for social networks.

  5. @yang1815 – The fact you are not on Facebook might explain why you’re not on the graph.  =P@Roadlesstaken – @lcfu – Interestingly, Xangans were not represented as accurately as I expected and other people, my Singaporean friends and high school friends, seem over-represented.  Since the company doesn’t explain their methodology, it is hard for me to figure out why some names were missing, others were connected oddly, etc.@ordinarybutloud – Well, the software they have can be used to map out any number of things, not just facebook relationships.  For example, if you want to track the food you are eating or the types of media you consume, you could use the software to create visualizations of that, too.@murisopsis – It does “put it into perspective”, so to speak.

  6. @Shades_of_Athena – Depends what you mean by “like the Bay Area”…  There are many other areas that are very livable and offer a mix of cities and suburbs.  Melbourne, Australia reminds me a lot of the San Francisco area, for example.  To some extent, so does Toronto.@ElusiveWords – You appear on the chart as the white space between the names.  LOL

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