Today I have the honnor to interview a special member of Gephi Team: Mathieu Jacomy.
Mathieu is an engineer, a founder of the WebAtlas NGO, teacher in Sciences Po Paris, and leads R&D in the TIC Migrations program in the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme and Telecom ParisTech school.
He is the main developer of the “Navicrawler” software. He also created the first Gephi prototype.
At this time I was analyzing a lot of graphs and I wasn’t satisfied by the existing free tools. That’s why I started to build my own tools.
I had no money to use professional tools, and I needed to understand precisely what the software was doing : the open source, free softwares perfectly fit these constrains.
I was using the amazing software Guess proposed by Eytan Adar, that himself built for his own needs. I was doing quite the same thing as him, and I couldn’t start to explore graphs without this tool.
But I wasn’t satisfied because the software didn’t allow so much manipulations. I couldn’t look at the substructures as easily as I wanted, and it was difficult to make nice cartographies.
I was dreaming of a “graph-dedicated Photoshop“, a visualization-oriented software rather than a script-oriented tool.
A good way to figure out what I mean is to look at the spatialization process. In famous softwares such as Pajek or Guess, you have algorithms called “layout”, “force-vectors” or “energy model”. These algorithms give its shape to the graph, and it is probably the most critical part of the process to build a clear visualization. Because the substructures or “patterns” that one may see in the image strongly depend on the algorithm and the settings chosen. But in the same time, most of users also want to quickly look at the global shape of the graph, and may not be aware that it’s important to search for the best algorithm to use depending on the time you have, the quality you want, the size of the graph, its degree distribution, the substructure that you expect to recognize… I was careful with these algorithms but even if I understood their principles and specificities, I couldn’t figure out how they were transforming the graph, and I couldn’t evaluate their differences.
Why? Because in these softwares you can’t :
– Manipulate the graph while the algorithm is running
– Modify the settings while the algorithm is running
– And sometimes, you can’t event see the graph while the algorithm is running
How can you just understand what’s happening there? Of course I started to work on a software that allowed this. But the same kind of problems appears again in other parts of the process, like filtering, image exporting… Pajek is clearly built in a mathematical perspective. Guess is more user-friendly, but not enough. I didn’t want a tool for mathematics experts, but a tool for people that actually have to explore and understand graphs. A professional tool for a job that didn’t exist at this time.
This was the starting point of “Graphiltre“. Building a graph exploration system so that you can understand what you are doing by looking at what happens on the screen, and do anything (including filtering) without typing a single script line.