help me! this is my hot mess in teaching social networks

Question for readers who teach networks: What software should I use for low tech undergrads? So far, I am having some real challenges…

I have an undergrad class where the first major assignment is to download one’s Facebook network and analyze it. I have been using NetVizz, an app inside Facebook, to extract network data. But it suddenly disappeared! One solution is to use the Facebook importer in NodeXL. That works but… Windows 8 is highly allergic to NodeXL. And lots of people have Windows 8 and they have endless installation problems. And the Java version is an issue. Even when it does work, NodeXL gets stuck downloading data from some student accounts. No explanation. It just does.

Then one can try Gephi, which is a whole ball of wax. The issue with Gephi is that it is highly sensitive to OS version. Luckily, there are fixes but they often involve Mac esoterica (e.g., Apple support does weird things in Safari, but not Chrome). Even then, students have all kinds of unexplained Gephi problems (e.g., the visualization pane simply doesn’t work on some Macs).

I need people to download a spreadsheet of data (e.g., centrality scores for people in your network) and not just pictures, so the Wolfram App and others are of limited value. Also, Wolfram seems to stall on some machines (including a Mac I have at home). I tried installing UCINET on Windows 8 as an end run… but had installation problems.

Here are my requirements. I need software that:

  • Can be easily used by low-math undergrads
  • Low cost/free
  • Is very stable in terms of Windows 7, 8 and various Mac OS versions.
  • If possible, a way to import Facebook data, and produce spreadsheets of data.

The last time two times I did this course, NetVizz, Gephi and UCINET did the trick. But there is a new generation of operating systems and the usual software hasn’t been upgraded and thoroughly tested. In previous years, I might have only or two students who couldn’t get network software running. This semester, it is a third of the class. Argh.

Any advice is welcome.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 24, 2015 at 12:19 am

Posted in fabio, mere empirics

12 Responses

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  1. Reminds me of how I spent a few days this summer unsuccessfully trying to get SoNIA to work as how my twitteR cron job seems to break about once a year as either the API changes or some library dependency breaks.

    Heraclitus would have gotten a kick out of social network analysis.

    Liked by 1 person


    January 24, 2015 at 12:50 am

  2. Mockery is not welcome in this thread.



    January 24, 2015 at 12:53 am

  3. You can try – it’s extremely easy and open source – it doesn’t get you the metrics you would get from Gephi or NodeXL (as best as I can tell), but you’ll get the visualizations and – as a bonus – you’ll get some content analyis that’s kind of interesting at a basic level. It allows you to analyze facebook, instagram, twitter, or rss/csv files. The creator of netlytics can be found on Twitter and he is amazingly supportive and responsive. He upgraded me from Tier 1 (free) to Tier 2 (also free, but allows for larger networks and more databases) on a weekend. There are nice tutorials and some sample databases also available on the site.

    As far as NodeXL being highly allergic to Windows 8, I ran into problems on one of my computers but not another – there’s plenty of troubleshooting available online related to that.

    You now know as much as I do. Best of luck :)


    Laura Gogia

    January 24, 2015 at 1:04 am

  4. ok, so the first time I read your post I skimmed it and missed the second half – sorry. I read it again and see your requirements – I checked out some of the tutorials on and you can export networks to csv files and I see where you can get basic centrality data for the nodes, but it wasn’t particularly intuitive – check out the blackberry tutorial to see how to access the centrality of specific nodes. So I still think it’s worth checking out :)


    Laura Gogia

    January 24, 2015 at 1:16 am

  5. The viz problems in Gephi are all related to the broader Java issues in the newish Mac OS, in my experience. Did you check out the Wolfram Facebook app?


    Chris Bail

    January 24, 2015 at 2:31 am

  6. @gabrielrossman, dynamic viz is also really nice in Gephi, in case you haven’t tried it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Chris Bail

    January 24, 2015 at 2:33 am

  7. Have you tried Cytoscape? It won’t help with your data import problem, but it’s a fairly powerful SNA tool.



    January 24, 2015 at 7:32 am

  8. Facebook recently updated its API to make it very hard to get friends and mutual friends.

    see here:
    and here:

    That’s probably good for the personal privacy of users but it means that labs or class projects like this might not be feasible any more. I’m actually surprised that NodeXL was getting any data. Maybe the all knowing and all powerful Stephen Wolfram has an exemption, but I’m pretty sure the smaller, custom packages aren’t going to be able to work around fully.

    Liked by 1 person

    Jon Atwell

    January 24, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    there is a link there of an alternative that can still be working…



    January 24, 2015 at 3:04 pm

  10. Is it possible to do NodeXL in a lab?


    Katy Pearce (@katypearce)

    January 24, 2015 at 5:51 pm

  11. What about Pajek – free and powerful?


    Ivan Z.

    January 25, 2015 at 7:01 pm

  12. No perfect solutions here. All have positive and negative aspects, mainly related to being tied to Windows or Mac (assuming Wine and/Parallels is not an option).

    Honestly, I’d use Pajek. The students might be like “WTF is this?” im the first session but teaching them SNA with the accompanying text ( should get then up to speed in a manner that won’t be intimidating. The book even lists the commands in the margins next to paragraphs introducing methods/measures.

    I learned SNA with this book/pajek years ago and now I’m wizzing around with R and Python. I think it’s a great intro tool but perhaps others have had different experiences?


    SNA Gal

    January 27, 2015 at 9:17 am

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