Lee Romero

On Content, Collaboration and Findability
November 21st, 2008

Visualizing Knowledge Flow in a Community

In my last post, I described some ideas about how to get a sense of knowledge flow within a community using some basic metrics data you can collect. I thought it might be useful to provide a more active visualization of the data from a sample community. As always, data has been obfuscated a bit here but the underlying numbers are most accurate – I believe it provides a more compelling “story” of sorts to see data that at least approximates reality.

I knew that Google had provided its own visualization API which provides quite a lot of ways to visualize data, including a “Motion Chart” – which I’d seen in action before and found a fascinating way to present data. So I set about trying to determine a way to use that type of visualization with the metrics I’ve written about here.

The following is the outcome of a first cut at this (requires Flash):

This visualization shows each of the lists associated with a particular community as a circle (if you hover over a circle, you’ll see a pop-up showing that list’s name – you can click on it to have that persist and play with the “Trails” option as well to see the path persist).

The default options should have “Cumulative Usage” on the Y axis, Members on the X axis, “Active Members” as the color and “Usage” as the size.

An interpretation of what you’re seeing – once you push play, lists will move up the Y axis as their total “knowledge flow” grows over time. They’ll move right and left as their membership grows / shrinks. The size of a circle reflects the “flow” at that time – so a large circle also means the circle will move up the Y axis.

It’s interesting to see how a list’s impact changes over time – if you watch the list titled “List 9″ (which appears about Sept 05 in the playback), you’ll see it has an initial surge and then its impact just sort of pulsates over the next few years. Its final position is higher up than “List 7″ (which is present since the start) but you can see that List 7 does see some impact later in the playback.

You can also modify which values show in which part of this visualization – if you try some other options and can produce something more insightful, please let me know!

I may spend some time looking at the other visualization tools available in the Google Visualization API and see if they might provide value in visualization other types of metrics we’ve gathered over time. If I find something interesting, I’ll post back here.

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