Adam Perer- Making Sense of Social Networks

The increasing amount of digital information in society has ushered in a golden age for data analysis. Ample data encourages users to conduct more frequent exploratory data analyses to explain scientific, social, cultural and economic phenomena. However, access to data is important but ultimately insufficient without understanding patterns, identifying outliers, or discovering gaps. Modern databases are simply too large to examine without computational tools that allow users to process and interact with the data. A growing trend in data analysis is sensemaking of linked data as networks. My research focuses on understanding these (social) networks because they are topical, emerging and an inherently challenging process for analysts. Networks are difficult to visualize, navigate, and most problematic, it is difficult to find task-relevant patterns. Despite all of these challenges, the network perspective remains appealing to sociologists, intelligence analysts, biologists, communication theorists, bibliometricians, food-web ecologists, and many other professionals. These analysts believe that the ways in which elements are connected are just as important as the elements themselves. My talk will describe three major aspects of visual analytics: designing new techniques to communicate and interact with network data more effectively, designing new methods to understand and aid analysts, and designing new applications to mine and visualize the complex relationships of social media. In particular, I will describe SocialAction, a visual analytical tool I built that has been instrumental for scientific discoveries, including medical research at the National Library of Medicine, counter-terrorism research at the Department of Homeland Security’s START center, and political analysis at US News & World Report.