What TouchGraph Can Teach Us About Schema and Algorithms
TouchGraph, a private company, has developed a base platform with many sub-developments. The program allows a series of queries or data sources to be visually connected via related topics, similar to WordNet or a visual thesauri. The designers left a fair portion of the system schematics visible—enough to give any geek a little appreciation for how their cluster algorithms must work.
TouchGraph is effectively a network visualization tool, but is also useful for data mining. The algorithms they use must be based on specifically weighted scales—while the company says as much, their cluster algorithms must have been fine-tuned.The results are especially visible in the TouchGraph /Facebook sub-application (which creates a visual/proximity-based display of network connections). It seems as if the actual software can construct a network out of any set of terms. In this regard, it is superior to Facebook Applications such as Thomas Fletcher's Friend Wheel, which create a simpler social network visual display. For real kicks, some interested party could analyze the Bank of America data released by Anonymous.
The program also allows a variety of data input, and shows part of the system feedback on the page, allowing an insight into the system itself. The main application is a responsive system, allowing temporal, multi-dimensional, and tree-style visualization mapping. This would seem to allow a better control of the data, but the possible nodal links generated are somewhat random. Thus, while unrelated topics can be connected via user input, inputting "information systems" and "computer science" failed to generate a nodal connection. This may be a curious anomaly, or a standard occurrence. Ultimately, it may be an issue of scale, and a large enough data set may find these things smoothing out. Future visual system developers may want to pay extra attention to issues like this, which can make the difference between a good nodal map and a great one.Continued on the next page