muckety and the network boundaries problem

NYTimes economics doyenne Catherine Rampell has discovered the joys of, calling it, quite appropriately, “catnip for conspiracy theorists.”

Muckety, if you haven’t seen it, is essentially what would happen if Mark Mizruchi and Don Palmer had a love child, which then became an expert in java animation.  It takes board interlocks to new heights with data on everything from who was suspected in Vince Foster’s suicide to the Board of Directors of AIG. It packages it all up into very slick looking network visualizations.  And all of it’s for free.

Unfortunately, the catnip doesn’t entirely extend to network theorists.  The problem has to do with the “boundaries of the network“.  The value of seeing a network is in finding out who is not connected and for that, you need a good sense of the boundaries of the network.  The problem with the Muckety is that it forces you to build the network from a single ego.  You can expand any of ego’s connections.  But you essentially have to chose between expanding the names you recognize (problem: selection bias) or else expand everything and see what pops up.  Problem: you are quickly overwhelmed. The boundary expands infinitely.

Tons of fun, not especially useful.  Maybe I’m too much of a network purist.  But would it be so hard to build in the ability to input a list of organizations or people and then have Muckety draw the network?  The site offers a few ways of “filtering” the data which is meant to have the same effect, but it’s clunky.


Written by seansafford

May 20, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Posted in uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. Sean,

    Interesting post… thanks for writing.

    I wanted to point out that there is a way to map more than one organization using Muckety.

    Here is a quick example. Search for:

    Apple Inc. and Google inc.

    check the boxes next to both names and create the map

    You will get this page

    You can simplify this map to get to the core of the relationships by selecting both Apple and Google (they are selected when you go to the page) – then under the map tools choose “trim selection”

    This will get rid of any “orphan egos” of Google or Apple – egos that are only connected to one item in the map.

    You can do this for multiple actors (or as you call them egos) through the search to see if there are connections. If there are no connections, the actor with the most connections will show up. I think there might be a limit (perhaps 10) of the number of actors that you can map at once.

    Here is one for William Clay Ford Jr., William Clay Ford, William Clay Ford Sr., Ford Motor Company

    Hope this helps,



    John Decker

    May 21, 2009 at 7:53 pm

  2. John,

    Thanks for the tutorial. Its really great to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. (For those of you who don’t recognize the name, John is one of the co-founders of muckety).

    It does indeed help. I knew you could input names, but I had tried a few obvious ones but that seemed to have overwhelmed the program. But I just gave it another shot with much better effects. For instance, I put in the names of the Presidents of Chicago area universities and got this:

    Not bad!

    In the mode of constructive feedback, a lot of those lines travel a very long distance to connect nodes. For instance, the link between Dennis Holtschneider and the Chicago Historical Society travels from one side of the image to the other and makes it look like there is a connection from Pres Holtschnieder to the Commercial Club. Manually rearranging, I got to this:

    Which to me conveys a lot more information… I can see very clearly which clubs/labs are connecting who. Still though, that didn’t take much work and the results are–indeed–useful.

    One thing about your point though; personally, I see it as useful information to know that someone is not connected. It would be great to be able to see that on the map (though I understand you can’t do everything). Again, I know you cant do everything, but would make sense to me.

    And, thanks for the thoughtful response!



    May 21, 2009 at 8:44 pm

  3. Sean,

    The issue of overlapping lines is one we are constantly trying to deal with. The mapping algorithm we use has a lot of different variables to work with and one of the big constraints is screen size. We make every effort to keep the boxes from overlapping and sometimes on smaller map sizes this makes it difficult to see the important relations in the maps.

    I like to start work on a map using the large map link which you can access just below the map.
    From there I like to go full screen mode (which you can get to through right clicking on the map – or through the map tools at the left). We have talked about the possibility of creating maps where the central players are not linked but yet could still appear in the same map space, but we have not done that just yet.

    We are constantly looking to improve the mapping experience and welcome input from users like you.
    It might be interesting to have a 3D version of the maps which you could spin around like a globe…

    We are always dreaming of fun things – implementing them is sometimes a bit more difficult.

    We are working on putting together some better tutorials for working with search and working with the maps and should have that available in the coming weeks.

    Please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to get them answered for you.



    John Decker

    May 21, 2009 at 10:38 pm

  4. If one wants to get precise in defining network “boundaries,” then I think the way to do is to look at the frequency of domain-specific interactions –that is, the average period of time between an exchange of information for each node. A field coheres as the frequencies of interaction match and then sync. There are models for this available already in the physical sciences.


    Michael F. Martin

    May 22, 2009 at 1:35 am

  5. Michael F. Martin

    May 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

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