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Exposing Contact Patterns
Wouter Van den Broeck, Ciro Cattuto, Alain Barrat, Ciro Cattuto, Vittoria Colizza, Daniela Paolotti, Jean-Francois Pinton, Wouter Van den Broeck, and Alessandro Vespignani
Project Description: aims to shed light on patterns in social dynamics and coordinated human activity. A case in point is the study of contact patterns, which deals with such patterns in contacts among people. To date, little is known about these patterns. Although models can help in learning more, measuring real-world dynamics is indispensable for obtaining a complete picture. Fortunately, emerging technologies such as active RFID devices offer previously unfeasible means for collecting this much needed data.

The following images are part of a video that gives an impression of a first contact patterns experiment and visualization being developed by researchers at The authors did a medium-sized test deployment of this experiment during the workshop "Sociophysics: status and perspectives" in Villa Gualino, in Turin, Italy, in May 2008. They asked volunteers to wear small tags with integrated active RFID technology, henceforth called the beacons. These beacons continuously broadcast small data packets while the participants lingered in the Bar during breaks, had lunch in the Cafeteria or attended presentations at the main workshop room. These packets were received by a number of stations and relayed through a local network to a server for further processing.

The main visualization represents the beacons, the stations, and their relations of proximity as measured by the system. The beacons are shown as simple discs, which are optionally labeled. Two beacons are connected by a link if the system detected that they are close to each other. The length, thickness and transparency of a link are a function of the strength of the link: short, thick and more opaque links represent strong proximity; thin, transparent links indicate weak proximity. The size of the discs representing the beacons depends on the number and proximity of other beacons, and specifically is a function of the sum of link weights to other beacons. The stations are shown as labeled shapes and laid out in a circle that spans the main view. The size of these shapes varies according to the number of beacons that are close to them.

The visualization client is an Adobe Air application developed in Flex. The visualization and physics system use (a mildly modified version of) the flare visualization toolkit.

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