Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
Word clouds, data clouds, tag clouds, text clouds . . . Regardless of you call them, everyone seems to like these visual representations of text data. First popularized over a decade ago via photo sharing platforms like Flickr and the social bookmarking site del.icio.us, these images’ are still commonplace in posters, presentations, business memos and communications, social media posts, and memes. Although simple and limited in what they communicate, these visualizations can be just as effective as more traditional charts and graphs as well as some infographics.
Generally, word clouds depict word frequency, significance, or categorization / relationships in a given text as a weighted list. For teaching purposes, word clouds are a great way to begin introducing tagging and metadata and visual representations of text. They can also be used to quickly identify I’ve used word clouds as a launch pad for tagging and visualization in courses ranging from the Digital Humanities and advanced Composition courses to professional writing courses.
The list below is a selected list I offer my students. Some of the sites provided here offer more than quickly generated, automated results, but each is a good way to get started with more complicated software and projects. Each of the samples shown here are word clouds of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (in its entirety). Get our there and play!
Probably the most frequented (and free) word cloud generator. No sign-up and a simple copy-and-paste process makes this a quick and easy application! Users can even paste in a URL with an RSS feed for the same results. The words clouds can be customized with a variety of font styles, colors and layouts. Features are limited, customization is limited, and it only has one standard canvas size, but for those in a rush, this works just fine!
2. Tag Cloud
This tool also allows users to create unique styles and formats and allows them to upload a file or use a URL address to do it. What’s unique about Tag Cloud is its options showing the frequency of words and allowing users to save and print designs as PDFs. No email or login is required. Be advised, the last time I checked, however, the website was undergoing some construction.
Similar to Wordle, Tagul also creates word clouds from either a URL, text, or a set of tags you define. What’s unique is that users have complete control over the appearance of the visual: the font, shape and colors. Also a free application, users do need to login via Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts.
4. Word Sift
Part of Stanford University’s English Language Learners (ELL) Resources, Wordsift was specifically developed for use in Language Arts classrooms. Although it does not have some of the features of Wordle and the others previously mentioned, it is versatile in other ways, allowing the study of the cloud it creates. The entered words may be listed by their frequency (commonality or rarity), in order of appearance, or alphabetically. In addition, by simply clicking on a word, this app opens an online dictionary that gives the meaning of the selected word. For language learners, it also helps view related images & videos through Google (although based on the word, this might not always by the most helpful or relevant) and understand the word sentence placement as well. This app does not require email or login, and printing is available through screen print.
This (free sign-up) application transforms texts into network visualizations. The user process is another simple copy and paste protocol, but some users might find the analysis of the charted network a bit complicated. Textexture counts both the frequency of use of a word, as well as the frequency of that word in proximity to others. The visualization organizes groups of words into the communities in which they appear (each community is color-coded). With a quick glance, users can identify certain themes and motifs; however, the program doesn’t offer the word counts or related tables that some word cloud generators offers.
6. Voyant Tools
Voyant Tools is a free, versatile, and user-friendly suite offering text analysis and visualization tools. Users can upload files copy them directly into the appropriate field. There are seven different panels available, each providing a unique tool for retrieval or analysis: word clouds; various summaries of word counts & frequencies; a convenient reader that locates selected words/passages in the original text; and word trends. Each panel’s results can be exported directly to the user’s computer and in a variety of formats.