Friday, December 25, 2009

Using word clouds as reader and author

I'm a rather verbose person by nature. As a kid, I never worried much about having a 500 word report prepared by the end of the week. I usually had it done by the end of the period.

When I wrote Podcasting For Dummies, I had to learn to curtail much of that. That's a very different writing style. But I've adopted it. And I think it makes my writing more effective. I also give props to Patrick McLean for being an inspiration. Seriously, if you want to know how to write clearly, concisely and effectively, you couldn't ask for a better writing coach than Patrick.

Which brings me to the discussion of the 4322 four thousand, three hundred twenty-two (4,322) word blog post by Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior Vice President of Product Management for Google. The title was The meaning of open, a topic of some import with me. So I read it. All of it. Whew. Now I'm tired. I'm glad I read it. But chances are, you won't take the time. It's simply too long. He's approaching the halfway mark of a novella.

Luckily, the advent of the web -- speaking of open -- has provided a visualization tool that helps. Wordle is a free service that lets you paste in text and create an on-the-fly word cloud. The more a word is used, the larger it appears in the loud. There are other factors involved as well. Here's the word cloud of Mr. Rosenberg's blog post:

[caption id="attachment_51" width="500" caption="Word cloud for really long Google blog post"]Word cloud for really long Google blog post[/caption]

While it's a poor substitute for actually reading the work, it can provide valuable insight. Insight that helps you decide if you should read the whole thing or not. Conversely, this could be a helpful self-check measure. Create your own word cloud out of something you are writing. Does the cloud match your intent? It should. If it doesn't, you didn't use the right words.

5 comments:

  1. Word clouds offer interesting snapshots, but without that all important context to glue it together it can never replace the thing itself.

    Love your new site - especially your tagline. Quite pithy. :)

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  2. Glad you like the site, Jeff. And thanks for the phrase. Told you I was stealing it.

    You're spot on with your summary. I think clouds can be a valuable tool on long posts and to pull meaning out off a span of posts. People as skimmers and skippers, so all that context we've tried to use as glue may go unseen.

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  3. Nicely done, Evo. As a result of this post I both read the Google "Meaning of Open" post AND created a wordle for my recent proposal for a change to the DMCA http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/1491476/Proposed_DMCA_Change

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  4. And now I want to read your post based on your cloud, Chad. Where can I find it?

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  5. [...] as educational and analytical tools, word clouds have become popular as art, of sorts, in digital scrapbooking, home decor, and gifts. I’m [...]

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