A Not-So Successful Attempt To Visualize My Twitter Followers (or Gephi Visualization, Attempt 1)

It seems fair to say I am obsessed with Twitter. I certainly spend enough time on the social network but my knowledge of how to use the data it provides leaves something to be desired.

Enter Tony Hirst (@psychemedia) and his recipes. On his own blog, Hirst writes up step-by-step instructions, or recipes as he calls them, on everything he does regarding data and Twitter and posts them on delicious.

There are two things with Twitter I wanted to learn how to do that Hirst blogs about. The first is to use Gephi to show the relationship between a Twitter handle and who its followers are or who it follows. The second is learning how to archive a Twitter hashtag and visualize the tweets about it. This post focuses on the first task.

Gephi Visualisations, Attempt 1 

Hirst has a couple of posts where he uses Gephi to show the relationship between different tweeps. “Visualising Twitter Friend Connections Using Gephi: An Example Using the @WiredUK Friends Network” is a really nice step-by-step post on how to use Gephi. To make things easy, I decided to just use my own Twitter handle for this exercise.

The first problem I encountered was finding a way to grab all the user IDs of my followers. I ended up asking Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey), someone Hirst links to a lot. Hawksey suggested I use Network Overview, Discovery and Exploration for Excel, aka NodeXL. Unfortunately, it is only for PCs and I have a mac.

(If you do have a PC, check out Hawksey’s post, “Twitter network analysis and visualisation II: NodeXL – Getting started with the @WiredUK friends network.” It’s a great explainer on how to use NodeXL.)

Hawksey has a recipe to use Google Spreadsheet to download information about Twitter accounts, “Export Twitter Followers and Friends using a Google Spreadsheet.” So I was able to use that and download a list of my followers, complete with IDs. But now I am stumped. How can I get this data to work with Gephi?

I published the file as a .CSV but when I tried to import/open that in Gephi, nothing showed up. (Tony then made a comment on this post and I am going to follow his directions to try and make a Gephi visualization.)

I went back to Hawksey’s blog and found a post where he discusses using Google Spreadsheets and a different service called Protovis, “Protovis Twitter Community Visualizations from a Google Spreadsheet (eAssessment Scotland delegate network).” This led me to this post, “Ported: Tony Hirst’s Using Protovis to Visualise Twitter Connections to Google Spreadsheet with Embeddable Gadget” that explains how to use Protovis.

Using his gadget, I was able to enter my own Twitter username and got this visualisation.

And that doesn’t quite tell me anything. So my quest to use visualisations for Twitter isn’t very fruitful, yet.

A Bit of Analysis

At the end of his post describing how to use the Protovis gadget, Hawksey writes, “Life is so much easier when you stand on the shoulders of giants.” He might say it in jest but it ends up being quite true.

Standing on giants’ shoulders, or using someone else’s code as the foundation for one of my projects, is exactly what I’m trying to do in Sandbox. It’s all about learning how to use something that someone else has created and alter it enough that it fits my own needs.

For example, Protovis uses Javascript, which isn’t compatible with WordPress. But by making this gadget, Hawksey has created a way for me to use Protovis, and to an extent Javascript, on my blog, without any plugins. This just further proves how hacking is useful. Hawksey took something and completely modified it, using Hirst’s work as well, so that it worked for his own workflow.

I am now taking the work of Hirst and Hawksey and using it for my own projects, modifying it where necessary so that it works with my needs.

Read Gephi Visualization, Attempt 2.