It’s intimidating to take an information visualization class with a fellow student who’s one of the most talented and creative infoviz wizards on the planet. But it’s a great way to see sneak previews of his work.
Jeff Heer is the whiz, and Vizster is his class project. It’s the best social network visualization tool yet, by far. I’ve always wondered what Six Apart and Friendster and the rest were thinking in limiting themselves to flat textual Web pages, because it makes so much more sense to illustrate social networks as images with nodes (circles or squares) for each person linked via connectors (lines) showing relationships. Here and there a few people (academics and hackers yet not the social networking services themselves) have pieced together such creations. Friendster even put a small mockup of such a visualization on their front page, but they never implemented the real thing. Now Heer put all of this together in a tool that effectively and stylishly implements what we were imagining, plus much more.
Unfortunately you can’t yet download this awesome Vizster tool or see an animation demoing it, and you lose a lot when you lose the live interaction, so I hope Jeff will put Vizster up for download soon. But on the Vizster site you can explore a collection of screen shots and a written explanation of the project.
For more Heer wizardry, check out his prefuse toolkit, which enables programmers to quickly build visualizations.