As I mentioned yesterday Microsoft Data Explorer Preview for Excel has hit the streets and one new feature is a built-in adapter for talking to the Facebook Graph API:
I’ve been taking it for a spin for today and was quite interested in its capabilities. Even without landing any data into Excel this is still a handy interactive Facebook graph explorer as I’ll demonstrate herein.
A good place to start is with a list of statuses. I have chosen “me” as the “Username or object id” (because frankly I didn’t know what else to put in there) and “statuses” as the dataset to return:
After the standard merry authentication dance with Facebook Connect one’s history of Facebook statuses is returned which on its own might make interesting reading:
however let’s do something a bit more interesting. I remove the columns I’m not interested in:
to leave just my statuses, likes and comments:
Notice that the likes and comments fields contain either a hyperlinked “Table” or null, “Table” means we have a set of likes or comments respectively – in other words Data Explorer is letting me browse through the one-to-many relationships inherent in the data and I happen to think that is very cool indeed. For example, selecting a link shows me the likes or comments respectively for the status in question (“Want to hear my Elton John joke? Its a little bit funny…”):
What would be more interesting would be if I could expand to show all comments against a status and also who made that comment. Turns out we can do just that, first click on this button called “Expand”:
which displays a list of columns that I want to show in the resultset; I choose “from” & “message”:
and now I can see all the comments against the relevant status. For all you out there whose heads are in SQL-land, I’ve effectively LEFT JOINed statuses to comments:
Last step, the comments.from field tells me who left the comment:
So let’s do a similar trick to show the name of the commenter in my resultset and voila:
we have a list of my statuses along with all the comments and the name of the person that made the comment! We have effectively joined three linked datasets (statuses, comments, person), all inside Excel, and all without writing a scrap of code. Personally I think that’s very cool.
Now let’s go back to just our list of statuses:
Let’s say we now want to count the number of likes and comments on each status and sort the data accordingly. I use the expand feature as before except this time I choose to aggregate rather than expand:
That gives me the number of likes and comments per status which I can then sort however I choose:
and with a couple of quick aesthetic column renames I have all my statuses with number of likes and comments in descending order of popularity (as measured by the count of likes):
I can then pull that resultset into Excel and chart it to see if there is any correlation between number of likes and number of comments:
Imagine aggregating over something more interesting than Facebook statuses and I think you can realise the potential here.
Hopefully this has served as a useful introduction to Data Explorer’s ability to query Facebook data. What interests me most about this is not the ability to query Facebook per se, its the ability to query and traverse over graph data using a tool that isn’t aimed at developers. Now imagine being being able to do the same with the growing corpus of linked data
graphs that exist on the web in RDF format and you start to realise the potential here; I truly hope that the ability to query RDF data is high on the agenda of the Data Explorer team*.
If you want to have a go with Data Explorer yourself then go ahead and download it from http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=36803; its free, although you will need Excel 2010 or Excel 2013 installed.
* For what its worth I’ve had a watching brief on RDF, the Semantic Web and Linked Data since way back in November 2004 and I’ve been waiting since then for it to hit the big time. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon but having support from tools like Data Explorer would be a step in the right direction.