world trade data, 1980 – 1994
Originally uploaded by skyrails

It is one thing to talk about social networks … about the connectedness of people and places. It is quite another to mine this data and provide reporting analytics around it. For example, looking at my Facebook feed page I can quickly tap into the pulse of my own, small scale social graph — I interpret the words, links, images, group memberships, activations, defections and rewards in a range of ways that allow me to activate, participate or ignore. This interpretation … my analysis of the events and interactions, when combined with a good dose of imagination can yield surprising insight into the interests and actions of my friends and colleagues.

But what happens when you take this up a level? What if we begin to aggregate the data? This is where statistical and analytical programs come into their own. Like Google Analytics … but for communities. For nations.

This type of research and analysis fascinates me. It tells me about how people actually DO behave. It helps me position my self within or apart from a movement or trend. It reinforces my sense of belonging or otherness. But mostly, it makes my brain buzz (perhaps Robyn, you can tell me what is going on here!)

In my mind, the social graph is multi-dimensional. There are contact nodes, points of reference, bridges, out-liers and random spikes that rise unexpected. But underlying this is fact … data … the truth in action. Behind every connected dot of imagination is the face of someone I am never likely to meet … and yet I am aware, ever so momentarily, of their presence and impact. And what I would love is a way to explore this information … to peek into the human secretness of the social gargantuan.

Which is why I am so excited about Skyrails — "a social network visualization system. It has a built in programming language for processing the graph and its attributes". While it is still in beta and being done whilst creator, Yose Widjaja, is finishing a PhD, its potential is substantial. You can even download a copy to run on your computer (PC only sorry folks). But in case you can’t test it yourself … this video is for you. Voila.

Via Shiv Singh’s excellent blog.