Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cool tools: Network visualization

The other day I was reading a CCK11 blog on a way to visualize the connections on your LinkedIn network.  Since this week's topic is "the network" on CCK11, I thought it would be cool to see how my network looks. You always get a notification on your social networks indicating who a particular contact has in common with you, but you don't generally get the full picture.

With a few hundred contacts on my LinkedIn network my diagram does look a bit chaotic (I don't even want to know what an Open Networker's diagrams looks like!), but zooming in makes things a bit more clear. The main thing that struck me is that LinkedIn didn't ascribe any specific values to the color-labels.  When I connected with people I usually indicated that I knew them from class, from work, that we did business together or there was some sort of consultation going on. To be honest I'm not really sure how this mapping tool color-coded my contacts.  The low-hanging fruit seemed to be certain smaller groups of people in my network, namely those in the Salem Arts Association and Greek Twitterers that I follow.

My classmates were more chaotic.  It seems like the mapping tool split my management classmates into two groups. Education classmates cross-polinated between the linguistics and the instructional design. I do wonder if LinkedIn worked this out by year-of-graduation.

Overall I think that this is a fantastic tool (which still needs some improvement), but I think it would be useful both as a network analysis tool, and as a tool to discover potential new contacts. We've all seen second or third degree contacts in the recommendations area of LinkedIn (where you're given names of people that you might know). I think that a tool like this could be modified to show potential new contacts and indicate why you might want to connect with them. Potential reasons may include: you graduated the same year as they did, you share groups in common, or you share common interests (i.e. eLearning,). Obviously there could be more categories there, but these are what come immediately to mind.

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