From Mother Earth News to SWAT in 9 Steps

Amazon's "Customers who bought X also bought Y" function displays thousands of paths through hundreds of demographic niches of America's magazines. You don't need Amazon to tell you that readers of 'Guns & Ammo' are more likely to buy 'Handguns' than 'PETA News.' But what Amazon can tell you is which magazines Dale Gribble and Comic Book Guy have in common. The hub 'zines - those that unite groups with little else in common - provide a glimpse into the subjects that draw us together as Americans. Inspired by the polarized political book networks on Orgnet, the power of Perl and the help of Adi Agafitei, I spent some time spidering around Amazon and dropping the results into Pajek, a free data visualization program from Slovenia's University of Ljubljana. The resulting networks show a handful of magazines that link us all - families and singles, women and men, liberals and conservatives, teens and boomers, Hummer-drivers and get the idea.

Magazine map

The network shows all of the shortest paths from 'Mother Earth News' to 'Special Weapons Assault Team: The Magazine for Prepared Americans.' The hub is 'Popular Mechanics', which I spent hours studying as a teenager. Men who read Popular Mechanics love their home workshops, and what is 'Family Handyman' but 'Mother Earth News' without the green baggage? Men who read 'Popular Mechanics' also like to hunt, fish and tinker with cars. From hunting it's not a big step to 'Guns and Ammo', and from there it's only a tiny step to assault weapon porn.

Popular Mechanics is a huge hub among men's magazines. But it's not the biggest. That distinction goes to Wired. More later.