Revealing Networks

Networks are everywhere. My world is increasingly described by networks: my cell network, my blog network, my networks of friends, and job network. Even in my research I find networks in biology, (and spend a good deal of time trying to understand the relationships - I know...I'm a geek). Indeed, networks are a wonderful way to model the behavior of complex systems -for example an ecosystem. But it is not always easy to determine which part of that network is important to the structure or function of the system, or even what role any one part may play in the network- until now.Biological physicists from Budapest Hungary have devised a way to lay very complex networks bare. In a recent article titled "Uncovering the overlapping community structure of complex networks in nature and society" featured in Nature, they describe a process to evaluate a network that takes into consideration the multiple levels of organization and 'membership' each component has in multiple sub-networks. Thus, it is now possible to look at much more complex networks, and predict the significance of any part of that system. Kind of like peeling away an onion, this method allows us to peer at different layers of the system. From looking at the interaction of large networks, to seeing which networks any individual belongs to.

This advancement brings hope to those looking to understand a complex system, such as cancer, the ecosystem, terrorism, the web, or anyplace anyone has collected mountains of information. By expanding our ability to analyze and observe networks we can ask new questions, and develop better predictions for how systems might behave. In a real sense, everything is a system.

On that note, looking at networks can be tricky. I’m usually a visual kind of guy. I like pictures. In my search for describing networks to folks, I came across Levitated. Their site has an amazing selection of open source software for visualizing information. I think the combination of visualization software from levitated and algorithms like those released this week in Nature will reveal the mighty networks around us in all their glory. Any thoughts as to what networks you’re a part of?


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