Gephi, Graphs, and Ways to Read Magazines

I enjoyed the concept of Gephi, though the operationalization of it was tricky. I enjoyed seeing how the sea of words and cells from our timeline spreadsheet was turned into a map of sorts through the graphing tools, though I also found some of the limitations amusing (my program kept mapping TS and Eliot separately - no surprise, they had many shared edges!). It would be neat to see this program cleaned up and made more user-friendly.

I see one of Gephi's great strengths lying in the way it seems to help overcome some of the difficulties with reading magazines through their online PDF or screenshot instantiations. In Dr. Latham's "Unpacking My Digital Library" piece, he discusses how the common approach to reading a magazine is to flip through an issue, stopping at various articles/scriptons, maybe going through the piece a few times with different sequences, but not to do a linear reading progression from start to finish. The presentation of digitized versions of magazines we've been looking at lately has created an environment that tends to constrain the reader to start-to-finish reading; it's hard to flip through a PDF the way you can flip through a magazine. In contrast, Gephi makes it easy to hover over various nodes and look at their connections at will. In this way, I think Gephi helps restore in the digital realm an important element of and approach to reading magazines.

Experiences with Gephi

In the humanities, it’s always nice when technical, “objective” sources agree with what we’ve come to believe is true through more subjective interpretation. This is what happened with regards to our conclusion from last week that death is the major scripton of the September 1918 Little Review. Death has the highest degree of any terms, 60, while the average degree is 15.6. In some format that I happened upon (full disclosure, I have no idea how I got Gephi to do this), the size of the label corresponds to the degree of the item. Death, in comparison to the other items, is huge. Clearly, it is a key piece of this magazine.

Another interesting element of the network graph is pentagon/star formed by 5 major topics of The Little Review: Death, Poem, T.S. Eliot, Poetry, and Art. Each of these important scriptons (they all have a degree of at least 22) is connected to the others in the pentagon. Beyond emphasizing the importance of each of these scriptons, I’m not totally sure how to read this pentagon graphic, or even if it needs to be considered in greater depth.

Though I was initially quite frustrated with Gephi, I do think that it is a very cool program, especially for people who are visual learners. I’m constantly drawing up timelines, looking at maps, and drawing arrows in my notes because I love being able to physically see connections and relationships. Like a lot of things with technology, it’s a program that takes some practice, and I know my frustration was a product of my lack of knowledge, not the quality of the program. No, it’s not the most intuitive program, but it’s not terribly difficult figure out if you give yourself some time to read directions and just play around. I can definitely see myself using this program in the future, assuming I can learn how to create the data sets that form the backbone of the graph.