Project: Fibra: Toward a Humanistic Analysis of Research Networks

With the Fibra project, we are interested in designing an interface that supports an individual researcher in the process of gathering, creating and editing data, all with the assumption of linked open data as an underlying resource.

Users typically turn to network analysis tools after assembling their dataset. Because of its editing functions, Fibra also functions as a data creation tool. A scholar wishing to recreate, say, John Locke’s network of French contacts based on his Travels in France could read through Locke’s journal with Fibra open on the side, adding nodes, edges, and metadata as she goes along. Fibra also serves as both a graphical data editor and a text data editor for making changes directly as you would in a spreadsheet. New data can be added (and then stored); existing data can be edited; and displayed nodes or edges can be hidden, merged, or deleted. By providing these graphical and tabular views, and simultaneously updating them, the display clearly reveals the connection between data and visualization, demystifying the connection between the two. So, if a scholar can sketch the graph of connections she wants, but does not know how to write that in a graph data format, she will immediately see how the data model is constructed (and vice versa). The assumption is that some data editing is easier done visually and some is easier using text editing features, including global search and replace. We hope this feature will also make Fibra as much of a pedagogical as a research tool. All data manipulations can be saved and exported into various data formats for reuse later or for use in other applications.

Increasingly, there are rich resources for research online that many scholars do not know how to access. Let’s take the aforementioned example of looking up the people John Locke encountered when traveling in France. As we enter person nodes into Fibra, we can look those people up in a name authority file like OCLC’s VIAF (Virtual International Authority File). Matching historical figures, publications, places, and objects to a central authority file is essential if we want to gather information across multiple sources. A resource like VIAF is a tremendous boon to scholars because it provides access to linked names for the same entity across the world’s major name authority files, including national and regional variations in language and spelling. There are many similar resources, like GeoNames and the Getty Thesaurus, that are underutilized because we do not have an integrated environment for scholars to search for entities and add the metadata to their own data set. The Fibra extension to Palladio will enable data enrichment from linked data sources. The connection to linked data will support research in three key ways: First, users can import data ontologies to structure the metadata they want to capture. To continue the above example, the reader of Locke’s French travels may wish to apply a prosopographical schema that captures both basic biographical metadata, and a set of social characteristics. By employing such metadata standards, scholars can exchange or compare data with others using the same or related schema. Second, users can import content through linked data resources housed at libraries around the world and in data curations projects like Social Networks in Archival Context (SNAC). We plan in particular to establish linked data bridges with our partner projects, such as Early-Modern Letters Online. Third, users can reconcile data against authority files, as described in the Locke example.

Early Work on Interaction

In 2014 we began exploring the editing and grouping of nodes as well as defiing attributes and values through the graphical interface. The resulting prototype, built by Giorgio Caviglia, is Idiographic, which you can explorehere. Below is a case study from Giovanna Ceserani's research that we presented at Arts, Humanities and Complex Networks at the 2014 NetSci conference.

Idiographic Tool Case Study from Humanities + Design on Vimeo.