Tag clouds and the value of visuals
I’ve been looking into the various infographics sites trying to do something different (more on that in a future post) and I came across something interesting. I was trying out some tag cloud services and realized just how powerful a visual look at your data can be.
On my first shot, making a Wordle, I found that the most prominent word in my RSS feed wasn’t anything near what I would have guessed:
“False”? Really? That’s the most prominent word? Well, of course that’s not the image that I want to convey when someone comes to my blog. For reference, here’s the Wordle without it:
I’m not really sure why “false” was that prominent; I’m sure it’d in the code examples, but … really? Ironically, with it gone, the most prominent term is “value” — which I’m happy to have associated with my blog.
A second service, WordItOut, doesn’t have the original “false” quite so prominent:
So I might have missed it if I’d started out there.
But there’s yet another wrinkle to this. A third service, Tagxedo, lets you arrange your tag clouds into an image. I couldn’t find the Stormtrooper they were showing on the home page, but here’s the cloud based on Abe Lincoln:
Now, I’m pretty sure this is based on the actual text on my home page rather than my feed, which is why my name is disturbingly prominent rather than the code terms in the other two clouds. (NoTooMi also shows up nicely.) But my point here is that adding this extra layer of visual is neat but distracts from the idea of making sense of the data. (Of course, if all you’re interested in is a cool looking visual, go for it. Tagxedo is a great service.)
The moral here? Visuals can be extremely useful, but be careful not to get TOO creative, or they’ll lose their power to show you the data you’ve actually come for.