by Brandon Rhodes • Home


Date: 13 June 2008
Tags:computing, web notes

What fun! An application has been placed on the Web named Wordle which, given some paragraphs of text as input, produces very striking images by drawing the most important words from your document so that they are largest. The basic idea is a long-standing one on the Web, as exemplified in dozens of sites with busy and ugly tag clouds whose halfhearted attempt to create interest by varying their font size barely makes the idea worthwhile. But viewing Wordle, I am simply startled that word frequency analysis can produce something so beautiful! Here, as an example, someone has submitted the Constitution:

Constitution Wordle

United States Constitution

One can spend several minutes just staring at the words so basic to our national life, and pondering the significance of their relative sizes! To make my own contribution to the burgeoning world of Wordle documents, I created a program to extract the memorial messages from the Marshall Booth Guest Book on, and then submitted the result to Wordle. After several tries, and after experimenting with the color options, I came up with something I find quite satisfactory:

Marhsall Booth Wordle

Marshall Booth memorial

I am sure that Wordle documents will look rather formulaic once everyone has used them to generate Christmas cards one or two years in a row. But they are without question of much greater visual interest than any other tag cloud I have ever seen, and are therefore a big step forward simply by making word frequency something worth staring at.

It would be fun to submit novels, or theological treatises, or each of the books of Paul, to Wordle and then see whether students of English literature or Biblical exegesis could identify the original document simply by which words appeared the most often. I think there would be interesting surprises! Could people tell apart the five acts of Hamlet?

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