Sunday, 11 April 2010

Clouds of Words

One of my biggest regrets, educationally speaking, is opting to do Chemistry instead of Art for O'level.  I didn't understand much of the Chemistry and remain a frustrated artist.  Therefore I'm delighted that one of the best things that I have discovered via Twitter is the ability to make word clouds, as these display my very favourite things - words - in an artistic and useful way.

There are now quite a few different ways of making word clouds, so I thought I would show you here what they can do.

To make comparison easier, the words in all the clouds are from this blog.

First, the word cloud generator that people are probably most familiar with - Wordle:

I entered the URL of this blog, clicked on "Submit", and this is the group of words that I got.  I then chose a font, set all the words to lie horizontally and created my own colour scheme.  It looks as though Wordle has only used the most recent posts to make its cloud.  The biggest words are the ones which appear most in the blog.  It has discounted the most common English words, and this is a function that is available for other languages too.  Wordle is very easy to use, but you can only save your resulting wordcloud by doing a screen capture.

Another one that I have tried is WordItOut:

WordItOut works in a similar way to Wordle, but always puts the biggest, and therefore most common, words in the centre.  The WordItOut image has used the whole blog.

To make a WordSift image, you paste in some text.  I used the most recent of my blogposts about the food flags:
Once it has made your wordcloud, WordSift invites you to sort your words in different ways.  The above image is an A-Z sort, and the one below is 'common to rare':
Once you have your word cloud, you can click on the individual words and WordSift will show you Google images for that word and you can also see that word in a Visual Thesaurus.  The Google images part works for text in other languages, but the Thesaurus does not.

Tagul creates word clouds in the same way as Wordle, but something you will have to do is to "blacklist" the most common English words to create the most useful result.  (My most common words came out as "they" and "then"!)  The big difference with Tagul is that each of the words in your cloud is linked to a Google search.  I think that this function is useful for word clouds of blogs, websites, or presentations, so that readers can click to find out more about certain things.  You can also embed your Taguls:

The size of the Imagechef Word Mosaic means that you can only put in a small number of words, but in many ways this is ideal for use with students, especially beginners or the less able who find independent writing a daunting prospect.  You can make your own symbols and colour combinations, and then embed the results:

And finally, the new kid on the block, Tagxedo, which has caused much excitement on Twitter this week.  Tagxedo offers many different fonts and colour combinations, as well as different options for the direction of your words and for saving your word clouds afterwards.  But the main innovation and something that sets it apart is the function which allows you to change the shape of your wordcloud.  There are nine different shapes to choose from in the program, or you can import your own shapes.  Another bonus is the option to create your wordcloud in the shape of a word:

It's all very well to be able to make these beautiful wordclouds, but what's the point, apart from pure creativity ?  How can we use them in the classroom, and what is the value of students creating their own ?  The Twitterati have come up with lots of good ideas.  Here are the links to their blog posts:

And here is a cool trick which will help you to put phrases into Wordle rather than just single words.

Of course it goes without saying that these ideas can be adapted for the other word cloud generators.

Clouds of words, pieces of art.

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