Tag clouds on the move

Yesterday, I discussed Wordle. Today, I came across a related tool, TagCrowd:

TagCrowd is a web application for visualizing word frequencies in any user-supplied text by creating what is popularly known as a tag cloud or text cloud.

TagCrowd is taking tag clouds far beyond their original function:

  • as topic summaries for speeches and written works
  • for visual analysis of survey data
  • as brand clouds that let companies see how they are perceived by the world
  • for data mining a text corpus
  • for helping writers and students reflect on their work
  • as name tags for conferences, cocktail parties or wherever new collaborations start
  • as resumes in a single glance
  • as visual poetry

Interestingly, both tools seem to indicate the growing realization that tag clouds have many more uses than their original, narrow application for indicating blog topic frequencies. A good example of the how tools often get used for very different purposes than what they were originally designed for!

Another application of “serious tagging” is not to use one tag cloud for various purposes, but to compare tag clouds.  Lilia Efimova gives a nice illustration of how she compared the tag clouds of her blog posts and a dissertation chapter on the same topic. Another comparison is to see how different tag cloud tools process the same text. Here’s the TagCrowd interpretation of the CommunitySense home page:

Quite a diffferent look and feel from the one provided by Wordle, right? It would be interesting to come up with visualization criteria which provide the best type of tag cloud for the particular purpose for which they are used.

Word (art) clouds

A friend pointed out Wordle to me, which “is a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.”

I tried it out with the text on the CommunitySense home page:

Apart from truly being a piece of art and aesthetically pleasing, such “tag clouds ++” should have real business applications. It would be interesting to see how, say, a 100 page report would look like and whether its visualization could help in quickly grasping some of its essential meaning.

Installing MediaWiki

Wikis are great not only to co-author documents, but also to implement private or public knowledge bases.  For CommunitySense, I wanted to install a number of wikis. Two issues arose: which wiki and to have it hosted somewhere else or host it myself?

The quest for the right wiki took me quite a while. A good starting point for comparing the features of the many wikis around is the WikiMatrix.  I tried quite a few of the wikis listed, but none of them served all the purposes I intend to use the range of wikis for (co-authoring, file management, personal information management, etc).  One option would have been to use different wikis for different purposes, but the learning curves and maddening variations in syntax caused me to make the principled decision to focus on one wiki only and master it well.  I chose MediaWiki, as it has the most complete set of features and has proven to be very reliable and , as demonstrated by its use in Wikipedia. It also has a large user base, guaranteeing sustainability and further development.

The next question was whether to use a hosted version or host it myself? Hosted versions are expensive, especially when hosting multiple wiki instances. My current Dutch provider, Hosting2Go, didn’t provide good support for MediaWiki installation and configuration. In my quest for another provider, I came across SiteGround.  They not only provide great web space (750 Gb!) and bandwidth (7500 Gb / month!), but their customer service also installs as many MediaWikis as you need. This for only about US$ 6,- / month. I had three MediaWikis installed, all of them ready for use within 15 minutes after my requests.

After their installation, I only had to make some small changes to the LocalSettings.php configuration file, in order to get the right privacy settings. This turned out to be really simple with the help of the following document: How to make your MediaWiki private?

Installing a VPN client on the ASUS EEE

I have to work a lot on Tilburg University campus, and continuously need to access the Internet, which is one main reason I bought my ASUS EEE laptop. However, to get access on campus one needs a VPN connection. On Windows machines, it is no problem to install the Cisco VPN client, but, alas, not so for Linux machines like mine. Raymond Mul, ICT manager at the Faculty of Law, and avid Linux enthusiast, has been so kind to write a short manual (in Dutch) explaining how to make the university network open up for Linux lovers as well:

VPN installation Howto for Asus EEE PC series

Enjoy!