Visualising Networks Part 1: A Critique

This is the first post of a series on network visualisation. 

Thanks to the facilitated access to network analysis tools and the growing interest in many disciplines towards studying the relations structuring datasets, networks have become ubiquitous objects in science, in newspapers, on tech book covers, all over the Web, and to illustrate anything big data-related (hand in hand with word clouds.). Unfortunately, the resort to networks has reached a point where in a conference I heard a speaker say:

Since this is mandatory, here is a network visualisation of these data. Sorry if you cannot see anything in this big hairball.

Hairballs. [Sources 1 2 3 4]
Hairballs found via Google Images. Note that the authors of these images themselves originally called them “hairball”. [Sources 1 2 3 4]

You would expect in a conference that everything presented has a purpose. Sadly, it seems that there is underlying pressure in scientific communities to create such horrors.

A network is easy to create, easy to draw, easy to export, and usually nobody ask questions, because they are often difficult to grasp. This could be different. Continue reading “Visualising Networks Part 1: A Critique”