Friday, August 5, 2011

Self Portrait #1

by Robert Boyd

TouchGraph visualization of all my Facebook friends

Portraiture is constantly being redefined. I remember in an art history textbook in college seeing two portraits of a 19th century Maori; one by a European artist and one by a Maori artist. The European artist depicted the Maori man in a three-quarter view, in a naturalistic style. His facial tattoos were drawn in detail, but as a pattern on a solid object--his head. The Maori artist drew the Maori man's eyes and mouth in a somewhat simplified way but drew the pattern of the tattoo exactly. Because the two artists had different ideas about representation and identity, they approached their shared subject in vastly different ways.

One way of depicting a person is to present data about that person. Therefore, a data visualization could be considered a portrait--at least at this point in Western cultural history.

The image above is a visual depiction of all my friends and networks from Facebook as calculated by an app called TouchGraph. TouchGraph looks at all your friends and how they relate to all your other friends. It tries to color code them according to certain associations. How this sorting works is kind of mysterious. For example, the light blue group is mostly family, but also includes a guy I knew in high school. The green is a lot of people from Houston (if not currently in Houston) and includes some people I went to high school and college with, others I know from here and there, and lots of people in the Houston art scene. But the orange group is also people from the Houston art scene, as is the little two-person magenta group. The red group are mostly people who come from the world of comics, but also includes a large subset of people I went to college with. The dark blue group is mostly people I worked at Dark Horse Comics with--why, of all the places I worked, they would be lumped in their own separate group, I don't know. Probably the least confusing grouping are the purple people, all of whom I went to business school with.

This is free, off-the-shelf software, so I can't say I'm being particularly original in this information-age self-portrait. But I nonetheless think it is valid--as much so as a photographic self-portrait would be.


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