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Venn diagrams for Groups UI

Venn groups diagram

This is the result of feeding a relatively small list of groups and their members to the VennMaster java tool. I’ve been looking for swooshy automatic layout tools that might help with interactive visualisation of ‘social graph’ data where people can be clustered by their membership of various groups. I also wanted to explore the possibility of using such a tool as a way of authoring filters from raw evidence, using groups such as “have sent mail to”, “have accepted blog/wiki comment from”.

My gut reaction from this quick experiment is that the UI space is very easily overwhelmed. I used here just a quick hand-coded list of people, in fairly ad-hoc groups (cities, current-and-former workplaces etc.). Real data has more people and more groups. Still, I think there may be something worth investigating here. The venn tool I found was really designed for lifesci data, not people. If anyone knows of other possible software to try here, do let me know. To try this tool, simply run the Java app from the commandline, and use “File >> OpenList” on a file such as people.list.

One other thing I noticed in creating these ad-hoc groups (more or less ‘people tags’), is that representing what people have done felt intuitively as important as what they’re doing right now. For example, places people once lived or worked. This gives another axis of complexity that might need visualising. I’d like the underlying data to know who currently works/lives somewhere, versus “used to”, but in some views the two might appropriately be folded together. Tricky.

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  1. More notes:

    I’m far from convinced anything automatic could work with real world groups/sets, unless their number and contents was heavily restricted, or broken out into
    several screens. For example, imagine a group “technologists” which I automatically
    compose from FOAF crawled from certain mailing lists, wikis, or other
    data. The structure of that group could be shown in venn, but in another context they could all be flattened together into a single
    group. Same with place, I could have “livesinbristol” “knowsbristol”
    and “isinbristolrightnow” from different sources. In some UI, simply
    “bristol” might do (since Venn diagrams get cluttered easily). But if I wanted to promote a tech gathering in Bristol this week, I’d probably want to usetechnologist+inbristolnow to get a list of people to hassle.

  2. This is a cool tool. If you up the number of edges, you can get smoother circles. Coincidentally, John Venn happened to study at my college and I was teaching someone about Venn diagrams yesterday. I was thinking about this subject just before reading this post …

    I see group memebership as being a critical part of your online indentity, your online reputation and your online permissions. You are right to say that it’s tricky, not least because you have different TYPES (degrees?) of membership, from highly integrated, to a passing association.

    I think tools like vennmaster are a good place to start, but I think down the road we are heading for tools that will both record and quantirfy group membership. If I find any, I’ll let you know!