|InfoVis.net>Magazine>message nº 113||Published 2003-02-02|
|También disponible en Español|
The digital magazine of InfoVis.net
Social interaction produces many visual patterns we are so used to that we don’t notice them. But they provide us with indispensable information in order for us to navigate our social environment.
Some of these patterns deal with the flux of human activity, like the colourful scene of the bathers in a swimming pool or the appearance of the mushroom-shaped silhouettes of the umbrellas in a rainy afternoon. They allow us to situate and to coordinate our behaviour with that of the environment. Haven’t you ever felt strange dressed in a dinner jacket on a nudist beach, or wearing a swimming suit at a Christmas party?
Other visual patterns are related to affiliation, like the one made up of the business suits getting off a commuter train early in the morning. We create these and many other patterns just by standing where we stand and being what we are. This is what some call “social weather”, something that you can feel immediately in a soccer match where it can sometimes be really stormy depending on the results of the local team...
But in cyberspace the social interaction is becoming more and more important and we don’t have the indicators that the visualisation of our immediate environment provides. For example, when we are at the office a simple look around at our environment allows us to know who is present and who isn’t, the ones that are interacting and the ones that are buried in solitary work.
Not so in Internet where it’s not easy to know what the social network we are interacting with is like, who is doing what and where the social magma we are incorporated in goes.
Some initiatives are working on this in order to remedy the situation. We already spoke about chat visualisation in issue 46 (People Garden) or about digital cities in issue 102, But there’s still more:
A good starting point is Judith Donat’s PhD thesis. Donath works for MIT Media Lab and is one of the most active researchers in this field. For her, one of cyberspace’s most important problems is the absence of a body that in the social reality provides us with the possibility of
So that many of the visualisations are centred on the representation of :
The most evident schemes draw the social networks as graphs, i.e. nodes representing the actors and lines or arrows that represent the link between them. One of the most well known is the typical organization chart of a company. A more advanced example shows the so called Hxaro practice of exchanging gifts among the members of the ¡Kung culture in Botswana and Namibia.
Chat Circles by Fernanda Viegas, is a chat where your presence is revealed by a coloured circle, you have a history of the conversation in the form of a line with transversal bars proportional in length to the duration of every message. Your presence leaves a trace that vanishes slowly taking about 10 hours in the process.
We have also seen in issues 65, 66 and 67 the visualisation of the visits to a web site, but Nelson Minar offers us a different perspective in. Every visitor is a coloured point close to the web page he/she is visiting.
Visual Who, from Judith Donath, places the people in a space related to certain mailing lists. The colour of the names and their situation in space reveal the affinity with each of the lists. As new participants add new themes the morphology of the representation changes.
IBM’s “Social Computing” group is also specially active. Babble is a chat visualiser that represent every conversation as a circle where you find smaller inscribed circles that represent the individuals. The more in the periphery the less active in the conversation, the closer they are, the more involved in mutual conversation.
As we can see there are multiple ongoing initiatives. Nevertheless and despite the activity deployed by Donath’s group, IBM and other groups and the richness of some representations, I’ve got the impression that we still have a long road ahead before we can interact on the Net with a visual support so rich and versatile so as to allow the deployment of the abundant resources of social interaction we are used to in the real world.
This article has seen the light thanks to a conversation with Ben Hyde who suggested me to make an article on the topic and was also kind enough to provide a handful of links, some of which you can find attached.
Links of this issue:
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