Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tagxedo PNGs & JPGs

Tagxedo is another word cloud generator, one with even more bells & whistles. Like Wordle, the program counts the number of times a word is used. The more it is used, the larger it appears in the graphic. Small words like "a" and "the" are not counted.  Both Worlde and Tagxedo can make word clouds from text or websites. I prefer Tagxedo for the images it creates, but for analyzing the message of a literary work, Wordle actually works better. See my previous post about Wordle.

Here's my Tagxedo image of this blog.
Before we could use Tagxedo on our Macs, I had to install Silverlight. Tagxedo provides a link for this installation. Similar to Flash, Silverlight allows the interactive display to function. I've never needed Silverlight before, and this took a bit of time, but it was easy. By the way, don't even think about running Wordle or Tagxedo on on Mac OS 10.3. Our lab has 12 machines with 10.6 "Snow Leopard." The other 18 have 10.3, so my students take turns using the newer machines. We don't have any "Tiger" machines anymore, so I can't say if Tagxedo will run on 10.4. Perhaps one of my readers can tell me. I believe you need to install before you can properly view this embedded version. Here's an article about embedding Tagxedo on your web page.

The print function in Tagxedo allows you to save it as a PNG or JPG. The graphic above is a PNG. I was curious about which format is better for this type of thing. I found a very clear explanation on Inverse Karma, the blog of software engineer Ganesh Prasannah. I chose PNG based on his suggestion that if the image contains text and hard lines, PNG is better than JPG.

I ask my students to save their work and turn it in to my digital turn-in tray--a "write only" folder on our server. Not only does that allow us to have a paperless classroom, it gives us the option to add the image to a web page, make a slide show, or print in color when I get the color printer working. Both Wordle and Tagxedo have public galleries for you to share your artwork. Be advised that not there may be graphics in the gallery that are not appropriate for the classroom. 

Tagxedo has more fonts, allows you to use more than 1 font on your word cloud, and offers more controls in layout. It's best known for pouring that word cloud into a shape, like the one below. This  is part of the first chapter from my favorite Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of Four.  Cool!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Beautiful Word Clouds

I've used Wordle with my students and I love it! The coolest part--for me--is the way that a word cloud can sum up the author’s message. Check out this Wordle I created by pasting in the text of Melville's Moby-Dick, Chapter 1. Wordles or word clouds take words you give them, drop out the smallest words, and make the one that are most often repeated the largest. I love how this word cloud says, "Find little, get  nothing." That's about as good a plot summary as you can get of a 500+ page book.
We go to Google Books or Project Gutenberg to choose a book for our word clouds. Which ever website you use as a source, be sure to choose the version in "plain text" for Wordle. Project Gutenberg is a little bit easier to use for this purpose.

There are other options than the ones I chose. You can enter the URL of your teacher website and Wordle it. You can choose from dozens of colors and fonts. I chose to keep the one above rather plain.

The print function uses Java. Only the newer machines in my computer lab can use this, so students take turns using machines with Mac operating system 10.4 or later. We click the print button, then in the print dialog, save it as a PDF. The screenshot below shows the process on an "Advanced Wordle." It's not really as hard as it looks, although when I tried it with my 4th graders I gained some gray hairs. Advanced Wordle lets you put in your own words and tell it which ones are most important by following the word with a number. The hardest thing for students to remember is to use a colon, not a semi-colon between the word and the number, and to not put a space after the colon. I advise them to stay between 100 and 2000. They love the "Custom Palette" of colors. Don't even think about attempting this till they've grasped the PDF process.