Practicum B – Turkal

For this week’s demo, I’ll be showing us how to use Wordle, an interesting little tool that turns input text into a visual diagram that weights words based on their frequency.

From the Wordle homepage, at http://www.wordle.net/, click “create your own,” then copy and paste any body of text into the field at the top and click “Go.” The program generates your word cloud, and from there you can tweak the layout, colors, font and other features, but Wordle does not allow you to manually maneuver words. You can randomize it until you find an arrangement you like, but that’s all you can do.

There is a forum, FAQ and advanced features guide, but there are a number of features that are missing. For one, there seems to be no way to save an image of your wordle, nor can you search through the public gallery. That said, it is a potentially useful tool for comparing texts based on their diction, but overall there is not a lot that I can imagine this being useful for – at least as it is now. If more features were added to the basic idea, this could become a very useful tool for scholars.

I chose two of my favorite texts to demonstrate how Wordle works: “Panopticism” from Foucault’s Discipline & Punish and Kant’s “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”

Here they are:
http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/4710016/D%26P%3A_Panopticism
http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/4710061/Kant%27s_What_is_Enlightennment

4 Replies to “Practicum B – Turkal”

  1. Thanks, James, for your introduction to Wordle. I share your frustration with the limitations of this tool. While Wordle has some obvious applications for quickly and attractively comparing the relative content of seemingly similar texts, it’s hard to imagine inventive ways to go beyond the basic using this tool. It is a great introduction to the text analysis capabilities that I assume other, more professional software has, but maybe not in a publicly and freely accessible way? I wonder if anyone can find a text where the word that is most commonly used is surprising?

  2. Neat post and great choices for Wordles!

    I got a great sense of what the software does and I like that you suggested that it could become more useful to scholars if it had more features.

    I would be curious to know what other kinds of features you think might make it more useful and exactly how you think those features would be useful. Don’t get me wrong, it is a really simple tool. For better or worse that is both it’s strength and it’s weakness. With that said, it is always interesting to think through what other kinds of features might let us do.

  3. I think Wordle would be interesting to use when looking at speeches or journal entries over periods of time, and it’s a neat way to incorporate images with something that isn’t very visual – text. However, I agree with James that its use seems pretty limited. It deals only with diction and emphasizes the topic of the text, which could already be very obvious. James said Wordle could be more useful if it included additional features – what do you think could be added to make it more useful for historians? Could it go beyond text and include other mediums like audio?

  4. I must admit that when I viewed Wordle for the first time my only thought was–wow! I was fascinated by the possible applications of such a site; however, after reading through this thread the position that Wordle (and historians) would benefit from additions to the program is understandable. Angela’s suggestion that other mediums be included especially caught my eye. But I would like to draw some attention to the feature of Wordle I found most useful: the option to draw a word cloud from a blog. Just to try it out, I took the URL for this blog and plugged it in. Though the cloud was not focused on only a few key words, the image seemed to highlight the history and focus of this blog quite well. James, you mentioned you didn’t feel that Wordle was useful for a great deal at this moment. Would the site’s ability to create word clouds for blogs change your mind? Could this be a way for historians to begin tracking changing public opinion?

    (If you’re interested in checking out the Wordle made for DigHist.org click the link!)
    http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/4724233/DigHist

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