Social NetworkSocial NetworkAbout a week ago, I met up with a former Romanian journalist who’d done a great job mapping political, media and organized crime ties in his country, and the complex relation between the three. It was a great database, but a little hard to wrap your head around because you had to do a search on an official or a company, which meant knowing where to start.

It was also difficult to get a “big picture” look at just how interwoven everything actually was. The month before, I’d been approached to pitch a similar project, that would map the ties between contractors and state officials in a way similar to how graphs political, business and social relationships.

I haven’t had a chance to play with many options, but thought I’d collect them here and share my impressions as I get a chance.

  • is in beta, is free and puts out some nice looking social graphs. You plot out the relationships in a Google Doc, upload it, and they map it for you. As far as I can tell, the free accounts are limited to one graph at a time, with up to a hundred nodes, but there's no option yet to upgrade to a pro account or anything else that would give you more access.
  • IBM's Many Eyes project has quickly become the data visualization/crowd sourcing darling: Upload a data set, and let the world play and poke at it. It features social graphs, like this one of Biblical co-occurrences, as one of the many, many options. I believe it's currently free and mostly a way for IBM to show off what their BI tool Cognos can do.
  • SocNetV is an open-source social grapher that has some neat tools like a built-in webcrawler.
  • UCINET has a free time-expiring demo, and paid rates ranging from $40 to $250 for a full license.
  • GraphViz is another open source option. The homepage says it can power web graphs, apparently through the Grappa Java engine
  • NodeXL is an Excel template that makes it easy to power social graphing without much out of the ordinary software. It uses an OSI-approved open source license. There's also a free tutorial for it as well.
  • Flare is a nice Flash ActionScript library that looks like it could easily create dozens of varieties of social graph visualizations with just a few clicks. The demo is incredibly smooth and impressive, and it's also open source.
  • Gephi is another slick network visualization package, but doesn't appear to have a web component.
  • Protovis is another open source option that sports in vogue favorites like force-directed diagrams and many, many other options. Here's a guide.

And not technically a software package, but Investigative Reporters and Editors has a social network analysis guide. Any other options I’ve missed? Add them below in the comments. As I get time to test out the various packages, I’ll post my thoughts and link to them from here.

Note: Many of these great suggestions come straight from the NICAR mailing list.