Visualizing your Facebook network

In the course about social networks that I teach to undergraduates, one of the assignments asks each student to make a visualization of their Facebook network using Gephi, an open-source graph drawing program.  Despite the differences between the students, it is amazing how much similarity there is in the structure of these student’s networks.  It is even more amazing that many of these patterns are predicted by pre-Facebook sociological research, such as Scott Feld’s excellent 1981 paper on social foci.  Here are some examples of the students’ personal networks.

Below are detailed instructions about how to do visualize your Facebook network using netvizz and Gephi.

Note that these instructions and screenshots apply to netvizz v0.72 and Gephi 0.8.2.

    1. Go to https://apps.facebook.com/netvizz/
    2. On step 2 click to create a gdf file from your personal network.  Note, please do not check the box that says (“friends’ like and post count”); this makes the process take a very long time.  Even still, it might take A LONG TIME for netvizz to complete its work.  Save this gdf file somewhere where you can find it; this .gdf file has the data about your personal network on Facebook.netvizz on Facebook 2013-02-11 17-53-29
    3. Install Gephi.  It is open source and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.
    4. Open Gephi.
    5. In Gephi, open the .gdf file that you just created.
    6. In the “import report” window make sure that “undirected” is selected.gephi_import
    7. Change the Layout to “Fruchterman Reingold” and press run.  Once the layout stops changing you can press stop.  For more information about Fruchterman Reingold you can read this Wikipedia page about force directed graph drawing.gephi_fr
    8. Click on the “T” at the bottom of the screen to add labels.gephi_labels
    9. Explore the visualization by adjusting the sliders to change edge thickness and label size. You can also roll over specific points to highlight subsets of edges.gephi_labels_lines
    10. Explore the visualization by zooming in and out.gephi_zoom
    11. If you’d like, save your visualization.  To do this, click on the preview button at the top of the screen.  Select the options that you want and then click the “Export SVG/PDF/PNG” button on the lower right part of the screen.gephi_export

Of course, there are many more ways to explore and improve your visualization.  For more information about Gephi, you can check out:

Also, if you’d like to learn more about this assignment and the others in the course, they are posted on the syllabus.

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