MAS 965 Social Visualization a syllabus in progress

Judith Donath

Prerequisites: Permission of instructor
Level:Graduate Units:12
Wednesday 10-12 in E15-135
TA: Fernanda Viegas (
Course assistant: Elizabeth Hartnett

course description

Millions of people are on-line today and the number is rapidly growing - yet this virtual crowd is often invisible. In this course we will examine ways of visualizing people, their activities and their interactions. Students will study the cognitive and cultural basis for social visualization through readings drawn from sociology, psychology and interface design and they will explore new ways of depicting virtual crowds and mapping electronic spaces through a series of design exercises.

What does a virtual crowd look like? How can you see the rhythms in a mediated conversation? What style of portraiture emerges in the era of data-banks and affect sensors?

The goal of social visualization is to create intuitive depictions of social information for social purposes. There are many challenges and questions in this endeavor, including the analytic (what are the relevant data?),the interpretive (what do the patterns mean?) and the artistic (how can we accurately represent the content of the data and also evoke appropriate intuitive responses?)

This course investigates these ideas through a series of readings, critiques and design studies. Students will analyze the rhythms of online conversations, the patterns found in email archives, and the characteristic activities of individuals; they will depict them using lines, colors, sounds, movement and interactions. We will study the perceptual basis of various visualization solutions, looking indepth at problems such as how to depict subjective information, the privacy issues raised by making hidden social patterns visible, and methods for using visualizations as the basis for graphical and immersive environments.

Weekly assignments will include readings in cognitive science and social psychology, critiques of existing visualizations, and a progressive series of design sketches. There will be a final project and paper.


  1. Sep 08 introduction: what is social visualization? why is it important? what will we do in this class?

    assignment: social network readings and sketch
  2. Sep 15 social networks: foci, strong and weak links.

    assignment: Feld and Granovertter; form, line, color; and final network project
  3. Sep 22 no class
  4. Sep 29 basic design elements: using color, form and line

    assignment: introducton to sociolinguistics; sketching groups
  5. Oct 06 the social structure of conversations

    assignment: lifelines and other personal history project
  6. Oct 13 time, narrative and history

    assignment: conversation project
  7. Oct 20 Inhabited visualizations: large scale conversations

    assignment: about email
  8. Oct 27 visualizing email

    assignment: varieties of portraiture
  9. Nov 03 data portraits

    assignment: final project proposal
  10. Nov 10 final project proposal presentations

    assignment: faces
  11. Nov 17 visualized faces

    assignment: psychological and metaphorical maps
  12. Nov 24 Spaces, metaphors and maps

    assignment: embedded depictions
  13. Dec 01 Visualization as architecture: embedding social information in the world around us

    assignment: final paper and project
  14. Dec 08 Final project

some background readings

social visualization

Artifacts of the Presence Era: Using Information Visualization to Create an Evocative Souvenir. [pdf]
Fernanda Viégas, Ethan Perry, Ethan Howe, and Judith Donath
To be presented at InfoVis 2004, in Austin, TX.

Anthropomorphic Visualization: A New Approach For Depicting Participants in Online Spaces [pdf]
Ethan Perry and Judith Donath
Short paper, ACM Computer-Human Interaction 2004, Vienna, Austria.

Digital Artifacts for Remembering and Storytelling: PostHistory and Social Network Fragments [pdf]
Fernanda Viégas, danah boyd, David H. Nguyen, Jeffrey Potter, Judith Donath. 
HICSS 2004 (conference paper)

A Semantic Approach to Visualizing Online Conversations [pdf]
Judith Donath
in Communications of the ACM Volume 45, Issue 4 (April 2002)

Borovoy, R., Martin, F., Vemuri, S. Resnick, M., Silverman, B. and Hancock, C. 1998. Meme tags and community mirrors: Moving from conferences to collaboration. In Proceedings of CSCW '98, Seattle, WA, Nov. 14-19.

Donath, J. 1995. Visual Who. In Proceedings of ACM Multimedia `95, Nov 5-9, San Franciso, CA.

chat circles 2


Visiphone [pdf]
Judith Donath, Karrie Karahalios & Fernanda Viegas
ICAD 2000

Marco Susani Mapping conversation

Visualizing the crowds at a web site
Nelson Minar and Judith Donath
CHI 1999 (short paper)

PeopleGarden: Creating data portraits for users [pdf]
Rebecca Xiong and Judith Donath
UIST 1999

LiveWeb: Visualizing live user activities on the Web [pdf]
Rebecca Xiong and Eric Brittain
SIGGRAPH 1999 (short)

Kerr, Bernard. Thread Arcs

Smith, Marc. 1998.Netscan: measuring and mapping the social structure of Usenet. In Communities in Cyberspace. London: Routledge (in press).[The Netscan site]

Sack, Warren Conversation Map

Ben Fry - activity in the Media Lab Shop


They Rule (Josh On)

September 11 Terror Network (Valdis Krebs)

Mark Lombardi's works

Jason Salavon's works (especially flayed figure (male), late night triptych)

Komar and Melamid Most Wanted Paintings


related techniques and examples

Lumeta Web Map (Bill Cheswick)

Atlas of Cyberspace

Maps of the World Wide Web

TextArc (Brad Paley)

Visual Thesaurus (Plumb Design)

Valence & Anemone (Ben Fry)

Hyperbolic Browser (InXight)

Spacenet (Jared Schiffman)

Tamara Munzner

SequoiaView (Jarke [Jack] Van Wijk)

StarTree Hyperbolic Browser (Ramana Rao, Inxight)

Ahlberg, C. and Shneiderman, B. (1994). Visual information seeking: Tight coupling of dynamic query filters with starfield displays. In Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI '94 Conference Proceedings, pages 313-317.

Bederson, B. B., Hollan, J.D., Perlin, K., Meyer, J., Bacon, D., and Furnas, G. (1996). Pad++: A zoomable graphical sketchpad for exploring alternate interface physics. Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, March 1996, vol.7, (no.1):3-31. (more here)

Bier, E. A., Stone, M. C., Pier, K., Buxton, W., and DeRose, T. (1993). Toolglass and magic lenses: The see-through interface. In Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 93 (Anaheim, CA, August 1-6, 1993), pages 73-80. (more here)

Brave, Scott and Dahley, Andrew. inTouch: a medium for haptic interpersonal communication. Extended Abstracts of CHI'97: Conference on Human Factorsin Computing Systems. ACM Press, 1997. 363-364.

Card, Stuart K., Robertson, George, and York, William, The WebBook and the Web Forager: An Information Workspace for the World-Wide Web. Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI'96), 1996, 111-117.

Dourish, P. 1993. Culture and Control in a Media Space. In Proc. Third European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work ECSCW'93 (Milan, Italy). Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Eick, Stephen G. and Graham J. Wills. Navigating Large Networks with Hierarchies. In Visualization '93 Conference Proceedings, pages 204-210, 25-29 October 1993. San Jose, California.

Feiner, S. and Beshers, C. (1990). World within world: Metaphors for exploring n-dimensional virtual worlds. In Proceedings of UIST '90, pages 76-83.

Feiner, S., MacIntyre, B., Haupt, M., and Solomon, E. Windows on the world: 2D windows for 3D augmented reality. Proc. UIST '93 (ACM Symp. on User Interface Software and Technology), Atlanta, GA, November 3-5, 1993, 145-155.
(problem printing)

Furnas, George and Bederson, Benjamin. Space-scale diagrams: understanding multiscale interfaces. In CHI '95. Conference proceedings on Human factors in computing systems, pages 234-241.

Hill, W.C., Hollan, J. D., Wroblewski, D. and McCandless, T. 1992. Edit wear and read wear. Proceedings of CHI `92. 3-9

Honkela, Timo; Kaski, Samuel, Lagus, Krista, and Kohonen, Teuvo. 1997 WEBSOM-Self-Organizing Maps of Document Collections, Proceedings of WSOM'97, Workshop on Self-Organizing Maps, Helsinki University of Technology, Finland, June 4-6, 1997, pp. 310-315. [The WEBSOM site]

Ishii, H. and Ullmer, B., Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits, and Atoms. In Proceedings of CHI'97, ACM, March 1997, pp. 234-241.

Kautz, Henry; Selman, Bart and Shah, Mehul. The hidden web. AI Magazine, vol. 18, no. 2, Summer 1997, pages 27 - 36. [The ReferralWeb site]

Munzner, T. and Burchard, P. (1995). Visualizing the structure of the world wide web in 3D hyperbolic space. In Proceedings of the VRML '95 Symposium (San Diego, CA, December 13-16, 1995), pages 33-38.

Rennison, E. (1994). Galaxy of news: An approach to visualizing and understanding expansive news landscapes. In Proceedings of UIST '94, pages 3-12.
(problem printing)

Robertson, G. G., Card, S. K., and Mackinlay, J. D. (1993). Information visualization using 3D interactive animation. Communications of the ACM, 36(4):57-71.
(problem viewing & printing)

Small, David. 1996. Navigating large bodies of text. IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 35, No. 3&4.

perception, cognition and design

Albers, Joseph. 1975. The Interaction of Color (revised ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Arnheim, Rudolph. 1974. Art and Visual Perception. Berkeley: The University of California Press, revised and expanded edition

Bertin, Jacques. The Semiology of Graphics.

Brewster, S. A., Wright, P. C., and Edwards, A.D.N. An Evaluation of Earcons for Use in Auditory Human-Computer Interfaces. Proceedings of ACM CHI '93, April 1993, pp. 222-227.

Brilliant, R. 1991. Portraiture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mediated Faces [pdf]
Judith Donath
Cognitive Technology 2001 (invited paper)

Eick, Stephen G. Engineering perceptually effective visualizations for abstract data. In Gregory M. Nielson, Heinrich Mueller, and Hans Hagen, editors, Scientific Visualization Overviews, Methodologies and Techniques. IEEE Computer Science Press, pages 191-210, February 1997.

Hochberg, Julian. Perception (2nd edition). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Tufte, Edward R. 1983. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

-------. 1990. Envisioning Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

Wolfe, Jeremy M. 1996. Visual search. In H. Pashler (Ed.), Attention. London, UK: University College London Press.

social analysis

Milgram, Stanley. 1977. Psychological maps of Paris. In The Individual in a Social World. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

ibid. The familiar stranger: an aspect of urban anonymity.

Wirth, Lewis. 1938. Urbanism as a way of life. American Journal of Sociology. Reprinted and abridged in (LeGates, R. and Stout, F., eds.) The City Reader.

Whyte, William H.. 1988. City: Rediscovering the Center. New York: Doubleday.

Social Roles in Electronic Communities
Scott Golder and Judith Donath
Extended abstract of a paper to be presented at AoIR 2004