Cloudy Forecast

Cloud computing is a concept that—if you haven’t already been hearing about—you’re certain to be inundated with in the coming months. Even the U.S. government has dubbed 2011 the “Year of the Cloud.” But there’s another type of computing cloud that’s also been looming on the horizon, building momentum, and is becoming popular even among non-techies: word clouds.

A word cloud (sometimes also referred to as a “text cloud” or “tag cloud”) is a visualization of word frequency in a given text (news articles, blog posts, love letters, whatever) as a weighted list. These graphical representations of words are usually constructed out of individual words (although short phrases can also be incorporated) and often use varying colors, font size or letter weight to emphasize more frequently-used words. A cloud can be free-form, but often the text is used to “draw” relevant shapes, so it’s sort of a hybrid of an informational chart and an eye-catching graphic.

(You can see my first foray into word clouds in my Word Up! post from a couple of years back.)

A couple of months ago, I discovered Hardy Leung’s fantastic new word cloud tool called Tagxedo via one of my favorite blogs, Gerard Vlemming’s The Presurfer.

Tagxedo is a web-based app that turns words—famous speeches, news articles, love letters, your website, whatever—into a visually stunning tag cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text. It offers nearly-infinite customization of over a dozen different variables allowing you to create some truly unique & artistic word clouds.

For the best results with this, you’ll most likely need to tinker with the contrast and brightness of your source image. To achieve the desired effect, I punched up the contrast, converted Liam’s photo to greyscale, and applied some filters to make the shading even more sharply-defined. Once in Tagxedo, I found that I got better results with a larger pool of text that I had manually removed some of the really common words from (like “the,” “and,” “or,” and such) but I believe there’s even now a way to configure the app settings to do this for you. So the progression went something like this:

Word cloud image prep progression

So, armed with the cropped and heavily-tweaked version of a recent studio portrait of Liam, the text contents from our Russian Adoption Journal, and Tagxedo, I went to work. Once it had generated a cloud that I was especially pleased with, I saved it and printed the image on a very high-resolution laser printer loaded with high-grade linen paper. I used paper with a very pronounced texture to give the text a bit more character & interest. We mounted the print in a floating frame and hung it in our Den. The end result is, I think, really impressive!

Up close, the grouping of the word cloud text is interesting but it’s a bit tough to visualize the shading and form being suggested by the placement, size, and weight of the text:

Tagxedo word cloud image detail

But as you pull further back from reading distance, you begin to get the word cloud effect as a whole:

Tagxedo word cloud



I urge you to visit Hardy’s Tagxedo blog for some usage tips, the Tagxedo Gallery for some stunning examples of what can be done, and finally, the 101 Ways to Use Tagxedo document for an in-depth tutorial.

I’ve discovered that, in the few weeks since I did our word cloud art project and started drafting this article (a few blog posts got pushed to the backburner in the hustle & bustle of the holidays), Hardy has made loads of additions and refinements to Tagxedo. But be forewarned: Although these updates do simplify and speed up the process, you can still easily fiddle away a few hours playing, tweaking & adjusting. But chances are, your cloudy results will blow you away!

1 Comments

  1. Love, love, love it! I live in the world of Cloud computing and am in the process of implementing a portal which utilitizes a Tag Cloud so I’m constantly cloudy! :-) I love the tag cloud picture – would love to do one of Andrew! Thanks for sharing… very neat!

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