I have become a quick fan of MITs Technology Review. Not sure why I am just paying attention now, but I picked it up a few months back in an airport and rediscovered a great pub (nicely designed to thanks to Art Director Lee Caulfield).
Erica Naone has a great article in the April edition about different schemes for social media visualizations. As a Creative Director, information design has been a long-time love. Now, with digital data, we are seeing interesting approaches to creating pictures of the abstract dynamic of social connectedness. Tools like Visible Technologies help us understand the network path of ideas across bloggers by showing graphics - bubbles, lines, connections.
Two visual schemes that stand out to me include the work of Mathew Hurst at Microsoft's Live Labs ( I am a regular reader of his Datamining blog) and the Comment Flow visualization from Dietmar Offenhuber and Judith Donath at MIT Media Labs. The Live Labs work demonstrates the clustering we all sense exists amongst blogs. The image below shows even more centralization than I would have guessed. Is it a 'blogosphere' or a 'blogoclump'?
Comment Flow displays that wonderful mosaic of pics and favicons connected in hubs of comments around core posts or conversations.
On the MIT site, Dietmar describes it as such:
"We have designed and implemented a flexible tool for the content driven exploration and visualisation of a social network. Building upon a traditional force-directed network layout consisting of nodes (profiles) and edges (friend-links), our system shows the activity and the information exchange (postings in the comment box) between nodes, taking the sequence and age of the messages into account."
They have a movie (64Mb) and an application file for download (26Mb) here - could be interesting.
It reminds me of the display of the Vizster project that Danah Boyd had a hand in.
So where is all thi sgoing? These research-based and somewhat academic models must become the tools for us marketers tomorrow. If we want to track, demonstrate and prove the flow of WOM and the influence of person X over person Y in a particular conversation, having visual displays of the network and the spread of an idea will be very compelling.
As marketers, we live in a world of 'dashboards' that try to make complex data around campaign performance easy to get quickly and to provide meaning if not insight that can be acted upon.