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.


  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. :)

  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.

  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

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

  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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