MAS 963 Social Visualization
Judith Donath

Prerequisites: Permission of instructor
Level:Graduate Units:12
Thursday 10-12 in E15-095
TA: Fernanda Viegas (

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.


09.10 Introduction: What is social visualization

Introduction to the field of social visualization - what problems are we trying to solve, what work has been done in this area, what makes it different from other forms of data visualization?


Discussions - in chatrooms, newsgroups, mailing lists, etc. - are the foundation of the on-line social world. We will look at ways of visualizing these discussions, looking both at issues in creating representations of conversational archives and at the problem of designing visual interfaces for ongoing, synchronous discussions

09.17 The social data in conversations

A great deal of social information is exchanged in discussions. In the real world, cues are found in gestures, eye movement, tone of voice; in the virtual world, though the cues are more sparse they are not nonexistent. Looking at both spoken and electronic discussions we will address such questions as What is the social information that is exchanged in conversations - how is it produced? how is it sensed?

Donath et al; Goffman; Saville-Troike; Sproull and Kiesler.    newsgroup sketch.
Please read the completed assignments before class on Thursday.

09.24 Fundamentals: Color, shape, sound and location

When representing social information, the look and feel of the image - the subtextual messages conveyed by the style of the picture - can be as important as the actual data. Understanding the cognitive basis of visual perception is key to making innovative yet readable images. And "visualizations" can be more than visual, including auditory and other senses.

Tufte, Arnheim, Small, Jacobson & Bender'; newsgroup sketch.
Please read the completed assignments before class.

10.01 Conversation project

4 part design problem


What is an on-line "crowd"? What information do we want to see about it? What information do we perceive in our experience of real-world crowds? Examine ways of visualizing patterns of presence, activity and affinity.

10.08 Real and virtual crowds

The computer connects you to millions of others, but the screen gives very little sense of their presence or activities. Visualizing the crowd goes beyond depicting presence; the interesting problem is to show the patterns of activity and affiliation that provides its social structure.

Wirth; Milgram; Whyte; Donath; Borovoy et al. -- critique
Please read the completed assignments before class.

10.15 * Dynamics and interaction

Social data is often complex and/or subjective. A single representation cannot fully describe the envisioned situation - techniques that allow the view to explore the data from multiple perspectives are required. Furthermore, social visualizations may be front ends for communication, blurring the line between visualization and interface.

Ahlberg & Shneiderman; Bederson et al.; Bier et al.; - critiques and sketches. Please read the completed assignments before class.

10.22 Crowds project

Design assignment. Please review the completed assignments before class.


Massive amounts of data now accumulate about each individual - medical records, credit cards, highway tolls, newsgroup postings, etc. What does the "digital individual" look like? We will look at this both from artistic (what constitutes a portrait in the 21st century) and practical (how can visualizations assist people in maintaining control over access to their personal data) viewpoints.

10.29 Portraits, paintings and personal data

The portrait depicts a culture as well as an individual and it tells far more about its subject than just what he or she looked like. We will look at examples of portraits throughout history, particularly the Renaissance and contemporary experiments with interactive portrayals. Our

Brilliant; EFF; color bar mini-portrait. Please review the completed assignments before class.

11.05 Time and history

The temporal dimension is key to many social visualizations, e.g. depictions of the evolving structure of a community or the ebb and flow of a conversation. Furthermore, the virtual world is trackless - to leave marks of passage and signs of wear requires deliberate visualization.

Plaisant et al., Hill and Holland, Chandler; the evolution of home pages. Please review the completed assignments before class.

11.11 People project

Design assignment. Please review the completed assignments before class.


The spatial metaphor is both powerful and overpowering. It can clarify the relationship between objects and aid in navigation and memory; yet it can also stifle creativity, giving rise to stiff, literal representations. We will study the cognitive basis for spatial representations and look at approaches to visualizing the Web, newsgroups and other virtual places.

11.19 Mapping virtual spaces

Maps visualize physical space by projecting complex 3 dimensional data onto a single image, drastically editing out all but the most salient data. We will look first at psychological maps, whose distortions reveal a great deal about both the landscape and its inhabitants. We will then look at approaches to visualizing the Web and other virtual "places", focussing on methods that highlight the paths made by browsing users and that unite communities of people.

Lynch, Milgram, Donath, Staple, Girardin; design sketch. Please review the completed assignments before class.

12.03 Final project part I

Final project design. Please review the completed assignments before class.

12.10 Augmented spaces

Physical spaces can become information displays, either through augmentation with virtual objects or through the use of intelligent objects. As the locus of the interface moves beyond the desktop machine, ideas of what constitutes a visualization expand radically. We will look at how these new interfaces can be used to visualize presence and activity in a virtual community.

Readings and project updates


12.17 Final project

Project, documentation and paper

reading list

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.

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.

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)

Bertin, Jacques. The Semiology of Graphics.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Healey, Christopher.

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

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

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]

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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