3252 Minutes in FluidinfoPosted on March 27, 2011

Over the past couple weeks I've been experimenting with a Python script that crawls Fluidinfo. If you're not familiar with Fluidinfo, read my previous post about it, or visit their website. Basically, Fluidinfo is an openly writeable metadata engine, which means that as soon as you post data to Fluidinfo, others can add to it (or even edit your data if you wish). Fluidinfo accomplishes this with a simple Objects and Tags metaphor, in which Objects are anonymous, their meaning coming solely from the Tags that users add. This is a very social data model (they call it the "Database with the Heart of a Wiki"), so I wanted to see how users of Fluidinfo are connected through the objects they tag.

To investigate this, I wrote a little Python script (available at GitHub) to crawl Fluidinfo and find out how users are connected. Specifically, it counts the number of Objects connecting any two users. In this case I was not concerned with how many Tags any user may have placed on an Object, just that they placed at least one. After working out a few bugs and revising the script to use five threads instead of just one, I have the results of 3252 Minutes, or 2.25 Days in Fluidinfo.


I ran the resulting Graphviz dot-file through OmniGraffle using a Force-Directed layout, and got the following graph (you may want to open it in a separate tab, it's pretty big).

It looks kinda chaotic doesn't it? The first important note is that the connection lines are color-coded based on how many Objects are connecting the two users. Black indicates less than 10 objects, blue indicates between 10 and 25, green between 25 and 50, yellow between 50 and 100, and red indicates over 100 connecting objects.

Now let's take a look at the structure of the graph. Right in the middle of the chaos, we can see two users, terrycojones and njr, with connections to almost every surrounding user. Terrycojones is the CEO of Fluidinfo and njr blogs extensively on Fluidinfo and how to classify objects at AboutTag, so it seems reasonable that they would be focal points of the Fluidinfo web. I'm actually a little surprised that the graph isn't more centered around njr; he must have his own bot running around Fluidinfo, because most Objects I look at have some sort of njr tag ("njr/index" is a popular one if I recall correctly). Furthermore, there are three fairly distinct clusters of users around terrycojones and njr. To the left there's a cluster of domain users (oreilly.com, amazon.com, books.google.com, etc.), which are all domains that relate to books. This is a good sign because it indicates that these users are choosing to tag the same objects and following a consistent About-Tag convention. Below terrycojones is a loose cluster of technology related users (ycombinator.com, twitter.com, crunchbase), and above him is a very tight cluster of ordinary users. I'm really curious to see what Objects are connecting these users, but that's not something that my crawler picked up on this run.

Another interesting thing that we can see in this graph is the tagging habits of users. Most, but not all, users have a line looping back to themselves. This was actually unintended, but my crawler also picked up how many Objects each user tagged more than once. Notice that most users don't have more Objects in common with themselves than they do with other users. This would seem to indicate that the common behavior is to tag Objects socially, as opposed to creating a personal database. Of course people could be doing exactly that with one Tag per Object, in which case my crawler wouldn't have detected it. One last important note, Fluidinfo has a simple but advanced Permissions system for Tags, so it's quite possible that users are connected in ways that are not visible to the public. Of course I wouldn't be able to know if that's the case here :)


This was a really interesting experiment for me. A few possible next steps:

  1. Run a new crawler that will also find out what Objects are connecting users.
  2. Create a webapp that runs the crawler once a week, and tracks the changes over time.
  3. Create a webapp that collects this type of data, but puts it right back in Fluidinfo, fulfilling Fluidinfo's Meta-Purpose :p

I'll also briefly list the tools I used to do this.

  • My old HTPC: 1.6 GHz Atom processor, 2GB RAM, running Linux Mint 10
  • Python 2.6.6
  • The Fluid Object Mapper (FOM)
  • Graphviz and OmniGraffle

Again the code is available at GitHub, please let me know if you see any mistakes. I know it's a bit messy, but I thought it would be rather unscientific of me to alter the logic after the fact. I also have an SVG created by Graphviz here. I actually think it shows the structure a bit better, but I couldn't figure out how to prevent the lines from going through the users...