MAS 963: Social Visualization
Judith Donath

Prerequisites: Permission of instructor
Level:Graduate Units:12
Thursday 2-4 in E15-054
Course administrator: Lisa Lieberson (


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?

In this class we will study the cognitive and cultural basis for social visualization through readings drawn from sociology, psychology and interface design. Students will explore new approaches to mapping virtual spaces and depicting online crowds through a series of design sketches and a final project.



09.09 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

09.16 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?

Assignment: Readings about conversational structure; newsgroup analysis and sketches. Please submit your assignment online by 5pm on Tuesday.

09.23 Fundamentals: Color, shape, and narrative

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.

Assignment: Readings and exercises about color, shape and form. Please submit your assignment online by 5pm on Tuesday.

09.30 Conversation project

Assignment: Conversation sketch and newsgroup design. Please submit your assignment online by 5pm on Tuesday.



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.

10.07 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.

Assignment: Observing real crowds and sketching virtual one. Please submit your assignment online by 5pm on Tuesday.


10.14 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.

Assignment: Virtual crowds made of individual agents. Please submit your assignment online by 5pm on Tuesday.



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.

10.21 Observing portraits

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 examine the roles of the subject, artist and viewer in creating the portrait.

Assignment: Observing portraits. Please submit the URL of your designs online by 5 on Tuesday.

10.28 The digitized self

New media give rise to new portraits. Biosensors, interactivity, new social paradigms and novel publishing venues have all changed the way people are portrayed.

Assignment: Observing digital portraits. Please submit the URL of your designs online by 5 on Wednesday.

11.04 People project

Assignment: A digital portrait.Please submit the URL of your designs online by 5 on Wednesday.

Other topics and final projects

11.10 (Wednesday 3-5) Final project proposals

Please have your proposal online by Tuesday evening.

12.02 Augmenting people and spaces

12.09 Final projects

Please put your final projects and papers online.


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(problem printing)

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(problem printing)

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(problem viewing & printing)

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