Several times before, I have made “maps” of the civic renewal movement, using software to diagram the links among websites in the civic field. (See this effort and then this one.) Web links are not reliable evidence of collaboration. However, people create links because they consider another site interesting or important, and that means something. Network-mapping software starts with a short list of sites that you provide as examples of a field or movement. The software analyzes web links among those sites and clusters them together depending on how closely they are interlinked. It also finds other sites that have many links to the ones you started with, and adds them to the map. By examining the final product, you can draw some inferences about what organizations belong in a field, which ones are central or peripheral, and where gaps exist.
I previously used TouchGraph’s GoogleBrowser, which is cool and easy. This week, however, I tried again with IssueCrawler from the Govcom.org Foundation in Amsterdam. IssueCrawler is more sophisticated and flexible. After “crawling” hundreds of linked sites, it generated a cluster map of civic renewal and a circle map of civic renewal. The cluster map is best for showing which organizations are central. The circle map shows the density of links within the network: a very dense community would look like a ball of thread. (Note: You may need to install a browser plug-in to view these .svg files: you can get it here.)
Overall, the cluster map shows a set of youth engagement and volunteering organizations that are linked, on one side, to foundations (which fund them) and on the other to government agencies (because they link to official information and interact with the state). A few commercial news sites also appear.
Alas, I forgot to save a list of my initial nodes. However, I’m sure that I started with sites that represented deliberative democracy, community economic development, civic education, and voluntary service. Among the good sites that disappeared from the analysis were the Civic Practices Network and the Pew Partnership for Civic Change. This doesn’t show that these sites are unimportant; only that they don’t connect to the world of civic education and community service that the computer decided was central.
I’m not terribly impressed by the product of this particular IssueCrawler search, although it may show that the civic renewal field is less unified than I had previously thought. If the maps mean anything, they indicate that the world of youth civic education and service is unconnected to deliberative democracy and community development–and that would be bad news if true. In any case, the software is useful and powerful, and I want to learn to use it better.