Over recent years network visualization has shed light on an incredible array of subject areas, and by doing so has drawn the attention back onto itself. Driven by a surge in computing power and storage, increasingly open and accessible data sets, a large adoption by mainstream media and online-social-network services, and most importantly, our never-ending eagerness for measurement and quantification, visualization is currently at a tipping point. This drastic growth symbolizes a new age of exploration, with the charting of innumerous undiscovered territories. While the vast majority of network visualizations are illustrated by the common graph — expressed by an arrangement of nodes and links — the range of depicted subjects is astonishing. People, companies, websites, emails, IP addresses, routers, species, genes, proteins, neurons, scientific papers, books, or words — bonded by a multiplicity of lines — expressing anything from social ties to bibliographic citations, communication flows to hyperlinks. Never before have we felt so strongly the sense of living in a highly interrelated and interdependent world. The following examples showcase the network as the ubiquitous model in the new age of infinite interconnectedness.
Blogging presents one of the most interesting social phenomena of our time. This change in the flow of online information is radically changing the way we look at news providers and large media conglomerates. It also provides a remarkable laboratory to investigate how information spreads across online social communities. Most visualization projects under this theme map different aspects of the blogosphere, from charting the link exchange between political blogs to the dynamic blogspace of an entire country.
Bibliographic citation is a common practice in academic publications and an important measure of popularity and credibility among scholarly circles. It also makes for an accurate means to ascertain relationships of similarity between subjects. If two works are cited by a third, a connection can be inferred between the first two, even if they do not cite each other. This approach can be administered to a large body of books and research papers, creating vast matrices of association and highlighting proximity across domains.
Email is one of the most important communication channels in modern society. It is estimated that two million emails are sent every second across the world, and for many of us this number translates into copious amounts of messages that we send and receive every single day. In order to better understand the habits and social behavioral patterns of our in-boxes, many authors depict these rich containers in various ways, usually by looking at the complex social structures created within email lists of companies, schools, and institutions, with the Enron email data set being a popular example.
The internet is an intriguing domain for many people. With its vast network of servers and routers, linked by copper wires and fiber-optic cables, this hidden landscape that spans the globe represents a noteworthy target in the new age of technological discovery. As with many newly exposed territories, its visual depiction is the very first step in awareness and understanding of its inherent structure. The question of what the internet looks like has compelled many authors to create striking visualizations of different facets of the system.
One of the most interesting and recent themes for network visualization is music. Either by creating a visual metaphor for the notes of a song or by mapping similarities and differences between artists across extensive data sets, music is an enthralling emergent topic. A significant object of study in this context has been the popular music website Last.fm. Apart from the familiar social features, Last.fm’s application programming interface (API) has been used by many visualization authors to better understand music affinities, personal playing habits, and overall community structure.
Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information by Manuel Lima is available from:
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, nominated by Creativity magazine as “one of the 50 most creative and influential minds of 2009”, Manuel Lima is the founder of VisualComplexity.com and a regular teacher of data visualization at Parsons School of Design.