Best network/graph theory software for non-techies?
June 18, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm teaching a minicourse about networks, graphs, and computation to a non-technical audience (mostly grad students in the humanities.) What's the right software platform?

This is a "maker"-style event, where the goal is for students to mess around with data from their own work and to leave having made the first steps into being able to do the analysis on their own. So my criteria are

a) free or at least very cheap, since I'd like to ask participants to install this in advance;
b) easy to use for people who have no experience programming. GUI ideal, one-line-at-a-time command line interface probably OK, C or python-style programming not going to fly.
c) able to import and export in a variety of common formats. E.G. I wouldn't be surprised if participants have datasets they want to study which are currently in Excel.

Some current candidates are r (with the networks package) and Gephi.
posted by escabeche to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
From my own experiernce ... Gephi over R, but something built on D3.js (editable in a fiddle) over both.
posted by gregglind at 11:31 AM on June 18, 2012

Take a look at Cytoscape. R and d3 have a bit of a learning curve, even for programmers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:39 AM on June 18, 2012

Consider using NetworkX in interactive mode. It's a python package, but you can simply run the python interpreter as a command line interface to the package. It can output images using matplotlib.
posted by demiurge at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2012

I was going to suggest Cytoscape too. It's (as much as graph visualization software can be) very easy to use, quick to produce useful visualizations, and happily imports CSVs (and probably other spreadsheet file types too, I'd need to check).
posted by invitapriore at 1:08 PM on June 18, 2012

Or you could try Tableau's free trial - very spiffy results with minimum learning curve.
posted by ptm at 10:50 PM on June 18, 2012

iPython web notebook with matplotlib and pandas. Just got this set up today and I'm rolling histograms and graphs like nobody's business, plus it's online and shareable (though unsecure - exercise discretion). Some official docs and slightly more specific.

Seriously, it's cool stuff, and if you want them to be able to use their own data any less-programmy solution will be expensive or a trial version for something expensive.

For the record, pandas is a lot like R in python - has DataFrames and everything.

I agree that d3 is great, but it certainly does have a learning curve even for programmers.
posted by 23 at 1:37 AM on June 19, 2012

It's clunky for serious analysis, and has a couple of obscure bugs that surface occasionally, but UCINet is not a bad option for beginners. It's all GUI/drop-down-menu-driven. I think it costs $30 or so, but there's a 30 day free trial.
posted by pompelmo at 2:23 AM on June 19, 2012

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