I have to thank my brother Greg for giving me the idea for this post. Greg sent me an email about an application called Wordle. It was created by Jonathan Feinberg, a Senior Software Engineer at IBM Research.
The Wordle website describes the application as “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.” Pretty neat toy.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of word clouds, scroll along this page. In the widget bar on the left, you will see a section called “John’s Tag Cloud”, under which are several words of different sizes. Bloggers often add “tags” to their posts that list the key subjects covered. In this blog, the tags listed beneath the title of each post. The more tags there are for a given word, the larger that word appears, relative to others, in the tag cloud.
With Wordle, you can run an entire document through the application and come out with a word cloud for that document. This can be a very interesting exercise when it comes to speeches. Let’s use one of mine as an example.
You can watch the speech that I gave at the Toastmasters District 59 Conference in Dusseldorf here. (Yes, it might be a thinly disguised attempt to boost my number of views to Susan Boyle-esque levels, but what the heck, it makes the point.)
Now, take a look at the word cloud that was generated based on the text of that speech:
In my speech, I used the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 – when enemy soldiers climbed out of their trenches and celebrated Christmas together – as a metaphor for us to climb out of the psychological trenches that we dig for ourselves and which prevent us from taking chances in life. You can see the words that featured prominently.
With the click of a button, Wordle gives you a snapshot of your speech. If you want to emphasize certain words, this tool provides you with an interesting perspective. Of course, there is more to good speech-writing than just adding or taking away words, but with Wordle, you get a neat little site map that lets you know where you stand.
Moreover, you can create nice souvenirs of your speeches. According to the Wordle website, “[y]ou can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.” Pretty cool.
Wordle is also educational. To end on a fascinating political and historical note, Jonathan Feinberg has analyzed every Presidential inaugural address in an effort to see what was distinctive about each one. You can see the results here.