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Vizster Rocks

May 5th, 2004

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.

vizster-triple.gif

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.

vizster-sm.jpg

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.

10 Responses to “Vizster Rocks”

  1. comment number 1 by: Ryan

    For what it’s worth, the Stanford Alumni social networking site (inCircle), which predates Friendster by a couple of years, has had a visualization like this since the beginning. Jeff’s toolkit is very cool, and it would be great if he released it open source, since there aren’t any good free toolkits for these kinds of visualizations. But has he come up with anything new? Most of these visualization concepts have been around for years.

    And I wonder how useful they really are for finding interesting patterns in social networks. Certainly there are datasets, like book-buying patterns, for which these diagrams can be a revelation. But most of the time I play with these graph visualizations I just look at the pretty pictures.

    (I’m not trying to be a hater, just trying to cast a critical eye…)

  2. comment number 2 by: Sean

    Ryan:

    I think the point of prefuse is not to invent new visualization concepts or constructs, but to provide a toolkit that makes it relatively easy to implement visualization concepts that are known to work — and that makes it relatively easy to implement them -effectively-.

    We need more contributions like this because there are plenty of visualization concepts (fisheye lens, perspective wall, graphs, scatterplot, cone tree etc.) that have been known for years as you say and that can be useful, but that nobody uses, I think because implementing them -well- is difficult.

    RE: Vizster and how useful it can be for “finding interesting patterns in social networks.” I really want a Vizster visualization of my social network to play with right now, primarily because it would be fun rather than useful. But to answer your question: yes, I think this would be useful for finding interesting patterns, if anything would be. . INFOSYS208 got me especially interested in visually exploring my network to see who the key weak links are, to see where boundaries lie between different sorts of social circles, and so on. Whether or not you think that sort of thing is useful, you must admit that seeking out these patterns via a well-executed interactive graph viz (combined with the related Friendster pages) is a lot more effective than paging through flat Friendster profile pages alone, no?

    I’d love to see what that Stanford viz looks like though..

  3. comment number 3 by: Ryan

    I think the point of prefuse is not to invent new visualization concepts or constructs, but to provide a toolkit that makes it relatively easy to implement visualization concepts that are known to work…

    In that case he has succeeeded admirably. There is definitely a need for this; a company I was working for a couple of years ago needed a toolkit exactly like this, and the only one we could find was something IBM was licensing for a cool mil. We ended up rolling our own, but it didn’t look half as nice as Jeff’s, and we wasted a lot of time on it.

    …you must admit that seeking out these patterns via a well-executed interactive graph viz (combined with the related Friendster pages) is a lot more effective than paging through flat Friendster profile pages alone, no?

    No doubt: more effective and more fun.

    I’d love to see what that Stanford viz looks like though…

    It doesn’t look as good as Vizster.

  4. comment number 4 by: Brain Dump v.4

    Could it be True?!

    Is this the real deal? *clapping hands eagerly* I thought this stuff was way off in future whatever land other than the mockup I mentioned on the L-Word a while back. Remember? It’s fascinating understanding social dynamics/relationships/and networks. …

  5. comment number 5 by: James Landay

    prefuse is open source and Jeff Heer is a rising star!

  6. comment number 6 by: jeff

    Hi Sean, thanks for all the compliments! Sadly, I had to come home from my trek through Europe, but it’s nice to return and find some good buzz on the internet (even if it includes flattering postings by my research advisor above :).

    Anyhow, prefuse is definitely open-source, you can check it out (with demos, too) at http://prefuse.sourceforce.net. I also have a research paper draft and a demonstration video up at http://jheer.org.

    (btw, anybody reading this should also check out Sean and Co.’s cool visualization “Encounter Bubbles,” designed for my friend Scott’s research project “Mobster”: http://www.seansavage.com/encounter-bubbles/, as well as other great infovis class projects at http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/courses/is247/s04/projects.html)

  7. comment number 7 by: ilyagram

    Steve Job’s WWDC2004 Keynote

    ÂضÂú®”½çÂæ–”½ç”ª“Ä,Ë´”†>”ªÄȆºÔºüÂ…”½‚”¼üË®±ÊúÉÂOe…Ê”†>”ªÄȆºÔºüÂ…”½‚”¼üË®±ÊúÉÂOe…Ê

  8. comment number 8 by: we make money not art

    Visualizing Online Social Networks

    Jeffrey Heer, student in Information Visualization and Presentation, is working on Vizster, an interactive visualization tool for online social networks, allowing exploration of the community structure of services such as friendster, tribe, and orkut. …

  9. comment number 9 by: heerforceone

    de-scrambling

    alright, ever since I got back from Europe I’ve been excessively lazy at posting blog entries. So for the five or so people out there who still even look at this page, thanks for coming. Things have been crazy… I…

  10. comment number 10 by: Viktor

    hi, do you know what state viszter is now? I cant find anything younger than 2004

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