Every Word Cloud has a Data Lining

Some days, having studied for hours, I tend to suffer from brain-fry. My thoughts can get foggy, my vision blurry, and my mind cloudy. However, the latest session of Data Information Technologies and Applications has demonstrated that cloudiness is not necessarily a bad thing – at least in the case of word clouds. I created the following on the very appropriately-named site www.wordclouds.com, and I generated it using the information in the general course area of our DITA module in Moodle.

Word clouds “are used in various contexts as a means to provide an overview by distilling text down to those words that appear with highest frequency” (Heimerl et al. 2014). That seems to have been satisfied in the above cloud, as I would certainly guess (not having actually counted them!) that words or phrases like module, CityLIS, INM348, DITA, data, blog, information, Twitter, and resources, occur frequently in the text of the module information. “An important criterion to the quality of a generated word cloud is whether it grasps semantic meaning of the target document in an accurate way” (Yang et al. 2020); I give my word cloud a tick for this.

With regard to word clouds, “the high-frequency words are usually presented in a strong and eye-catching text effect to help readers make quick and educated judgments about the main idea of the reading materials” (Yang et al. 2020). Sometimes word clouds are simply an aesthetically pleasing summarised representation of information, though certainly there are some contexts where a cloud would perhaps be distracting, considered frivolous, would not serve any actual purpose, or might simply be inappropriate. Therefore, sensible judgement should be exercised when thinking of presenting text visually in such a format.

Personally I best absorb information when the method of presentation is varied and includes (where appropriate) visuals such pie charts, graphs, and now word clouds. “Surveys show that users prefer tools that yield word clouds with a stronger emotional impact. Fonts and color palettes are powerful typographical signals that may determine this impact” (Kulahcioglu et al. 2020). I had not made a connection of my personal visual preferences with emotions, but I find this to be a very interesting concept. The size and style of font is a discussion point of experts within the data representation and word cloud field; “Future work includes investigation of the optimal font scale in accurate decimal. More font scale with high precision intervals needs to be designed and conducted … The attributes of documents’ content and its relation with the semantic expression of word clouds in different scales should be investigated deeper and bring up more interesting topics” (Yang et al. 2020). It seems to me that the analysis and evaluation of word clouds is a growing area, which logically is not surprising considering the increasingly digitised world that we live in.

In terms of web text data in general “By the visualization and interaction, the access of large-scale text data become much easier” (Ma et al, 2017). It’s interesting to think that perhaps interaction with, and visuals of, text information could go hand-in-hand. I believe I have spent much more time studying and thinking about the above cloud because it’s a cloud, than I would have done if it was just a list of words. So, it could well be said that my cloud experience is indeed quite interactive – or at least more interactive than my engagement often is with lists of words or paragraphs of plain text.

The Temptations famously sang “I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day”. If an enticing, interesting, and informative word cloud presents itself it me, which injects a little sunshine into my life, then I’m all for it. Bring on the clouds!

Image courtesy of Pixabay

References

  1. Heimerl, F., Lohmann, S., Lange, S. and Ertl, T. (2014), Word Cloud Explorer: Text Analytics Based on Word Clouds. 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/HICSS.2014.231.
  2. Kulahcioglu, T., and De Melo, G. (2020), Affect-Aware Word Clouds. ACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1145/3370928.
  3. Ma, T., Wang, B, Zhu, T and Li H (2017), Spherical Tag Cloud for Prompt Keywords Visualization. IEEE International Conference on Signal Processing, Communications and Computing (ICSPCC). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICSPCC.2017.8242413.
  4. Yang, L., Li, J., Lu, W. and Chen, Y. (2020), The influence of font scale on semantic expression of word cloud. Journal of visualization, 23(6). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12650-020-00678-3.

2 thoughts on “Every Word Cloud has a Data Lining

  1. This is a really well written post, and I now have My Girl by the Temptations stuck in my head, so thank you!
    I agree, using visual representations of text can really help to make it more digestible and aid in extrapolating meaning from it. However, I do sometimes find word clouds, especially in their simplest form without additional sub-groupings or thematic use of colour, a bit limiting in terms of what information can actually be gleaned from them. Instead they seem to work better as a summary of information you already know. So as you said, sensible judgement should be used when choosing it as a format for presenting information.

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  2. It looks like I’m not the only one who has The Temptations’ My Girl stuck in my head now! I appreciate how clearly you’ve outlined both the strengths and weaknesses of word clouds, and you’re right: their usage must be treated with caution as they can only be relevant to your topic to a certain extent, and they also have their limitations in portraying an accurate representation of the context of the text available to them.

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