Bonsignore, E., Dunne, C., Rotman, D., Smith, M., Capone, T., Hansen, D., Shneiderman, B. (August 2009)
Social Network Analysis (SNA) has evolved as a popular, standard method for modeling meaningful, often hidden structural relationships in communities. Existing SNA tools often involve extensive pre-processing or intensive programming skills that can challenge practitioners and students alike. NodeXL, an open-source template for Microsoft Excel, integrates a library of common network metrics and graph layout algorithms within the familiar spreadsheet format, offering a potentially low-barrierto- entry framework for teaching and learning SNA. We present the preliminary findings of 2 user studies of 21 graduate students who engaged in SNA using NodeXL. The majority of students, while information professionals, had little technical background or experience with SNA techniques. Six of the participants had more technical backgrounds and were chosen specifically for their experience with graph drawing and information visualization. Our primary objectives were (1) to evaluate NodeXL as an SNA tool for a broad base of users and (2) to explore methods for teaching SNA. Our complementary dual case-study format demonstrates the usability of NodeXL for a diverse set of users, and significantly, the power of a tightly integrated metrics/visualization tool to spark insight and facilitate sensemaking for students of SNA.