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Visualizing the Internet and Online User Behavior

One the things which has been interesting to me are visual maps of the Internet, which show the main websites, and usually, how much traffic they attract. One of the leaders in measuring Internet usage all over the world, and in Asia-Pacific, is Comscore, which recently prepared a report on Asia-Pacific Internet usage.

Today, we are swamped with data and different sets of variables, so much so that most executives prefer to have their data presented in some graphic form. One great pioneer in this field is Edward R. Tufte, whose book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is considered a classic for all communicators who need to provide snapshots of large data sets in a simple and clear fashion so that business decisions can be made quickly and efficiently.

iA Japan has recently released a map of the Internet presented as a variation of the Tokyo subway map. Broadly speaking, larger sites are larger, while sites with less traffic are smaller.

Internet Web Trend Map

Now, I find myself spending more time thinking about how to visualize human behavior. Advertising and marketing have everything to do with understanding group behavior and psychology. While there have been books written about it, there has been almost no research done about how to visualize it. I find myself most interested in how groups of people move from one interest and website/s to another.

In the map, for example, I can see that among Chinese sites, Sina, Sohu, Netease and QQ are big, but I don’t know how people move to and from these sites, and to other sites. Static maps are about nouns; I’m also interested in the verbs and the adverbs. And not on a static basis as a snapshot, but in a live, ongoing, continuously evolving and changing basis in real-time.

How would online user behavior be visualized? One thing for sure: no static image would capture it; it would have to be like a video, constantly updated in real-time. And what insights would it give to marketers, advertisers, psychologists, anthropologists and linguists? My guess is that it would show that online user group behavior really has a lot in common with members of the animal kingdom which travel together in large groups, such as fish and starlings.

How about you? How do you think this data should be represented?

Since Google just announced a new university search API for research, maybe this could be a project it could be applied to.

Flock of starlings

3 Responses to “Visualizing the Internet and Online User Behavior”

  1. tai-te says:

    I don’t think it would resemble fish. Perhaps more like ants. Fish can sense each other instantaneously and turn and move with each other. Online, a person can’t view others moving like this. They may follow the tracks left behind by others though (like how ants follow each others chemical trails). For example, one person leaves a link, and another person can follow this link. Search engines follow these links too which means more people are likely to follow that path.

    To visualize this you would need a program that gets individual user stats and maps them in 2d or 3d based on their relationship to other user paths. Along the user paths you would might find common start points, end points and hubs.

    Static maps could still provide the verbs you want, they would just be in past tense. ;)