Amongst my weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, and social network analysis. SNA isn’t technically a UX skill—it’s gotten more press in the last decade as a tool for uncloaking terrorist networks—but it can be useful in any organization. SNA attempts to look past the official org chart and figure out who the gatekeepers and bottlenecks in the system actually are, and how the existing network can be optimized to accomplish the goals of the organization. From a UX standpoint, SNA can allow you to understand what your user segments are, how they’re connected, where their pain points are, and what their goals might be.
When I was learning various techniques for building a complete picture of a network, I realized I already knew most of the standard ones (surveys, journaling, content analysis of emails, etc). So rather than rehashing all that for my final project, I decided to experiment with a more automated method of data collection so I could focus on the graph metrics. I used a pre-existing corpus to which I’d already had substantial exposure: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Using a pre-defined list of characters great and small, plus any aliases they used in the books, I searched the text for the phrase “name1 and name2“, hypothesizing that characters with connections would appear in that phrase at least somewhere in the trilogy. The number of hits on each phrase provided the edge width. It was, if I do say so, surprisingly accurate.
Once I had the list of connections, I imported them into NodeXL to calculate metrics and generate a visualization. The final graph yielded results both expected and surprising, which are detailed in this presentation: