Revisiting Word Clouds: A Fun and Visual Way to Analyze Text

Finding a replacement for Wordle, I went searching for a replacement to try against one of my ZX81 articles.

I was futzing around with my site yesterday, checking stats and stuff. Seems my Wordle article using word clouds is one of the more popular ones. I have a feeling it relates more the game than the word cloud I wrote about it. After a quick view, I realized that the site I was linking to wasn’t active anymore. Thus, I began a short journey to find something else?

# Word clouds are fun.

I've enjoyed the idea of word clouds for some time. They are a pleasing way to express the concepts of words and frequency in a visual image. Through color shades and font size one can analyze a document’s concepts. It may not be perfect but it is fun.

In past articles, I played with making word cloud from my web site front page content. This worked pretty well, creating some interesting pictures for my site. Being from that moment, the word clouds feel a bit dates given the breadth of content I've created over the years. But they are still appealing to look at. In searching for a Wordle replacement, I wanted to do something different.

# Image clouds can be fun too.

Digging around, I discovered some alternative word cloud generators. Although many felt more like tag clouds, generating something akin to my tag cloud, I did find a few good ones. The one I liked the best was WordArt. It provided a lot of interesting options to style and theme your word cloud.

Now, my first idea was to recreate the cloud for my website. This would mimic what I did back in 2012 with Wordle. Yet, that felt stale and old. I needed something fresh and different. Plus I had a lot more options with this tool. As such, I picked a recent article as my inspiration. In this case, it was my chunky graphics Mandelbrot set generator.

# Making it look right.

To start, I imported the article and then cleaned up a few words I didn’t want it to use—like my name and navigation links. I then adjusted the font, layout—I liked dancing words, and before long I had a functional word cloud. Although you can customize the word colors, I stuck with black and white for this test.

In playing a bit with the settings, I realized the solution I choose uses an image to constrain the words. This offered me an opportunity to make the word cloud more relevant. Grabbing one of the images from the article and uploaded it into the tool. After adjusting a few settings, I had a functioning image that looks great.

Word cloud from “Chunky Graphics for the ZX81: A New Way to See the Mandelbrot Set.”Word cloud from “Chunky Graphics for the ZX81: A New Way to See the Mandelbrot Set.”

I’d forgotten how fun building word clouds can be. They are a great tool to convey an idea or concept. Although this was more of an experiment, I can see situations where they can be quite useful.

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