ONA: Which visualization tool should I use?


The good news is that there are a number of visualization tools available in the market. The tough news is that options leave people confused. Here I am going to try run through some of the tools and talk about the plausible pros and cons.

Free Stuff:

NetDraw: NetDraw is one of the older and more popular visualization tools available today. It has vast capabilities; however, it isn’t the most intuitive of tools. It does require a fair bit of tinkering around to get a hang of it. Another drawback is that it cannot read excel files and needs an intermediate tool to convert excel matrices into readable formats.

R Programming: This is another way to generate maps to suit your requirements. It does require a programming aptitude and in-house expertise of R in case you do not want to outsource the visualization.

NodeXL: NodeXL Basic & Pro are both free analysis and visualization software packages that is designed for people with little or no programming experience. The great part is that it can read excel files. However, it isn’t the most user friendly tool and does need considerable time investment in order to generate maps that are easy to interpret by most.

Gephi: Gephi is open source & free. It was initially designed by students of the University of Technology of Compiègne (UTC) in France. It does get difficult to use Gephi for complicated analysis with large datasets.

Pajek: This is yet another popular freeware. It doesn’t read excel files and is low on user friendliness.

Visone: Yet another freeware that doesn’t read excel files. Most common input file format is GraphML.

Paid Stuff:

Kumu: A visualization tool that enables import of cleaned up excel sheets. Survey reports need to be modified into a specific format. This is my favorite, especially if you have some budget to spare. It is extremely reasonable and provides quick support and query solving for any issue that you may have.

UCINET: This in combination with NetDraw are the most popular visualization tools that exist. UCINET generates output files from adjacency matrices in excel sheets that can be read by Pajek, NetDraw and other visualization tools. It does not throw up a map by itself but is integrated with NetDraw. It has a free 90-day trial post which you need to buy a licensed version.

Synapp: This is an end to end paid service that helps with each stage of network visualization. They help define the problem statement, design and administer surveys, provide maps, matrices and also consult with you on how to solve problem statements. It is a little pricey but a great collaborator if you were to outsource the entire project.

NetMiner: This is yet another premium software package. It’s easy to get the basics but it gets harder as you try and refine the maps. It also provides matrices that help solve the problem statement. I personally got frustrated with this software after a while. It does need considerable time investment to get a hang of.

Here’s my order of preference:

  1. Kumu
  2. R Programming
  3. UCINET & NetDraw (they usually are used together)
  4. Synapp
  5. NetMiner

Hope this helps you get a little closer to identifying the tools that you need.


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