Sunday, November 8, 2009

Inside my brain

Check this out. It’s a Wordle, a graphical representation of this blog showing which words get used the most and relative relationships between different terms. You can basically consider it as a picture of what may be going on inside my brain at any given moment (or at least the stuff that’s fit for public consumption).

I like the quirkily appropriate way some of the associations are working here. Note, for example, the bundle ‘political violence state’ in the upper left quadrant, and at bottom left, ‘Christians bad’ (this is how I felt when the door-to-door Catholics recently came calling while I was studying for my final exam). At top right, we have ‘analysis pain’ and ‘connect better’, which I could read as either a set of instructions to myself or a whimper of despair, depending on how my research is going. And in the middle, the ‘Times Muslims experience’ sounds like I’m advertising an odd sort of son-et-lumière show.

I don’t know if I should thank Jliedl or curse her for the link, given the time I’ve frittered away playing with this toy over the last week or so. Meanwhile, someone more insightful than I am has been considering the Wordle as teaching tool and gateway drug to textual analysis. Over at Muhlberger’s Early History, some unexpected results were obtained by running the text of Geoffroi de Charny’s 14th century book of questions on war through the Wordle generator. Muhlberger notes, ‘I am not surprised that "Charny" and "arms" are big; but I am rather taken aback by the size of "prisoner" and the near invisibility of "knight."’

I might try this out on some of my corporate clients. It would be a great way of hammering home the point I’m always trying to make, which is that they spend way, WAY too much time talking about themselves.

ETA a correction to the name of the Charny text.


Steve Muhlberger said...

I love it.

I have read the Wordle site but I'm still a little unsure how word frequency is translated into word size. I'd love to use this not only for my own inspiration but for actual publications.

Two points: I think that you should show Wordles to corporate clients.

Also my text was Charny's questions on war.

ZACL said...

People love talking about themselves at some level or other and some more so than others.

The Wordle is probably a great way of controlling what your corporate clients talk about in your presence.

Bavardess said...

Sorry Steve - I've corrected the name of the text. 'Chivalry' and 'war' are really not the same thing!

Apart from being a bit of fun, the Wordles do have the potential to show unexpected connections between ideas that could take a lot longer to uncover using conventional close reading/textual analysis techniques. But yes, I'd want to understand exactly how word size and placement is determined before I trusted it for anything but personal use. I must take a closer look at the Wordle website to see if they have more information about the methodology.

Janice said...

Go ahead and curse me, I'm strong enough to take it!

Stop words, by the way, such as "the" "and" "or" and "but", are filtered out by the regular programming but you can use the "Language" Menu to allow those to show through.

The Wordle FAQ does not that a fair chunk of the source code belongs to IBM so it's a non-commercial system and the source code isn't open for examination.

Bavardess said...

Thanks for the info, Janice. The IBM connection is interesting. Makes me wonder what they are really using the code/algorithms for (not just for fun, I'm sure!)

Digger said...

I ran a couple of rough drafts of book chapters through it... looks like I remain on-topic :D

This is too much fun.

Bavardess said...

Dig, that's a good way to use it. I wonder if it would also be a quick way to check indexing?

RPS77 said...

I think I'll have to wait until I have made more posts before I can have a sample that's large enough to be statistically significant!