As an exercise in visualizing the words that characterize the course of United States history, I used TagCrowd to create two word clouds for the president’s ‘State of the Union Address,’ 2002 vs. 2011.
A new version of TagCrowd recently went live. There are a few major fixes and some new features:
1. Major overhaul of the web spider for URL/webpage text sources. You’ll find that a lot more sites will work properly now (notably, Wikipedia).
2. You can now get multi-word phrases to stay together in the cloud (e.g. New York). More info here.
3. Major overhaul of the error reporting system. Now if there are problems with your text source or cloud, you’ll see a more informative error. Behind the scenes, I’m now able to better track what errors people are having, and fix them faster.
4. Updated the Help page.
TagCrowd how now been running since Summer of 2006, almost 5 years, and been visited by almost a million different people in that time. It long ago graduated from Beta status, but ‘Beta’ is still part of the logo as a reminder to always improve and better serve the needs of TagCrowd users.
Here are some images of TagCrowd being demonstrated at the International Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) in New Brunswick, NJ. (Click on the photo to see the rest).
I created word cloud stickers for every presenter at the conference (all 147 of them) based on the title and abstract of the article they wrote for the conference. There just happened to be a space on everyone’s conference-provided name badge that was the perfect size for the stickers so it was easy for people to display them. I distributed the stickers throughout the conference and you could see people pointing and referring to them whenever they introduced themselves.
It was fun to instigate this at such a large scale. Next time I’ll try to work with the conference organizers directly instead of trying to distribute them all on my own. I sure met a lot of people that way, though!
The Dallas Morning News ran a full-page spread in their print edition comparing the speeches of Democratic presidential candidates announcing their candidacy. They used TagCrowd to visualize and compare the words the candidates are using most. It’s a neat use of the technology to make what Edward Tufte calls “small multiples“, small information-dense graphics that afford easy comparison.
Tonight, TagCrowd made its (physical) world debut at a Stanford faculty retreat in Half Moon Bay. I created a name tag for each professor by dropping their research statements and resumes into TagCrowd to create a cloud visualization of their interests, projects, collaborators and activities.
It was a hit.
The primary goal of these personal visualizations was to facilitate the formation of new collaborative research teams on the basis of shared interest. By making interests mutually visible when people meet each other for the first time, these “name tag clouds” can identify areas of overlap, complementary expertise, and opportunities for potential collaboration — all in a brief glance. They also serve as conversational props that ease the introduction process: the clouds present conversants a rich set of topics for inquiry.
Looking around the room at any given time I witnessed circles of intellectual elites huddled intimately together, pointing playfully at one another’s clouds. Lera Boroditsky said that virtually every conversation she was in was about the cloud or referred to it.
I saw some of the brightest minds in the world with child-like grins and heads tilted navel-ward to see the constellation of words and concepts that others were seeing: the alphabetic poetry of their lives scrawled across their hearts, as it were.
Here is my own name tag from the event. As far as I know, this is the first application of tag clouds in a face-to-face community.
I got a lot of good feedback from the participants. In general people were impressed by how representative the clouds were.
The most common request was the wish to see a time-lapse animation of how the cloud visualization of one’s research interests evolves over the span of a career. Jeremy Bailenson suggested that color could be used to represent the time dimension even on a static picture like a name tag. My latest interests would shine red hot, regardless of size. Past passions would loom large and cool.
Terry Winograd (pictured at right with Eve Clark) had one of the most valuable pieces of user-experience feedback when he told me that he needed his glasses to read peoples’ clouds. He’s far-sighted and so it does no good to just get closer. Note to self: bigger words, fewer words.
Thanks, Terry. And thanks to all of you for taking part and having fun doing it. I got such a kick out of it, I can’t even tell you.
You may have heard of AOL’s recent search data snafu where they inadvertently released 35 million user search queries without properly anonymizing the data.
While they have ceased sharing the data, it is all over the Net already and people are already creating data mining tools for it.
For fun, here is the tag cloud for the top 500 search queries. Not the most interesting cloud I’ve seen — more than anything it betrays the ignorance of users who type website names and addresses into AOL’s search field instead of the browser location field.
Alternatively, you could read this as a signal of how useful the “I Feel Lucky” button is to the average user. Though I don’t actually know if AOL’s search engine has this button.