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I encountered this image that is very impressive and interesting to me.

In particular, I love the mixture way texts are presented.

I just wondered if there is a name for this style so I can Google for more similar images.

enter image description here

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's generally referred to as a Word Cloud or Text Cloud

There are web sites which can create them for you........ Wordle.net is one

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To add a little background on word clouds...

Usually in a word cloud, the sizes of the words are linked in some way to the relative importance of that word. For example:

  • Sites like Wordle allow manual weighting so you can ensure that the size of each word is appropriate.
  • There are tools that analyse text and generate word clouds based on the frequency of the words. For example, here's a pair of word clouds based on Barack Obama's two presidential acceptance speeches. You get a rough sense of the similarities and differences in tone of the speeches from looking at them.
  • Sometimes, word clouds are used as navigational elements on web sites. For example, some blogs have automatically generated word clouds based on their tags ("tag clouds"), with the most common tags largest.

These can be a fun and attractive way to get a snapshot glimpse of what might be the rough theme across a large amount of words.

But, like anything fun and attractive that can be automatically generated, it's easy to spoil to the fun by taking it too far or executing it clumsily.

Here are some word cloud faux-pas to avoid. Basically, they're all variants on the theme of "remember that you're just showing people a potentially attractive, mostly arbitrary snapshot":

  • They're visually interesting, but by definition cluttered and noisy, so take care to make sure they don't make the whole page too cluttered and noisy. E.g. generous white space around the cloud, and restrained balanced colours within it
  • If using them as a navigational element, remember it can be a fun bonus but it's no alternative to good well structured navigation
  • Don't take them too seriously. There was a deservedly mocked short-term craze of journalists using word clouds as a low-effort alternative to analysing important texts. Here's a conclusive debunking of that craze by a New York Times visualisation expert, comparing use of word clouds for analysis to "reading tea leaves". He goes a bit far: the important message is, don't take them too seriously
  • If you're automatically generating one, take care to exclude:

    • mundane or meaningless words, like "because", for obvious reasons
    • words with context-dependent meaning. Nieman in the above link recounts a time he developed a word cloud from text on US far-right 'tea party' activists' opinions of their political nemesis Barack Obama. Since the word cloud strips each word of its context, and just looks at frequency, it came out dominated by the words "like" and "policy" - a rather misleading message.
    • in tag clouds tags that apply to most of your content and so over-dominate the cloud to the point of it's being meaningless

Good word clouds can be attractive, interesting things that quickly and efficiently communicate an impression and message. Bad word clouds are are very easy to make and have been described as a "scourge" and as "the mullets of the internet" (see also above link). Use them with care!

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One of the best use cases was del.icio.us back when that was still it's URL. Unfortunately, the new owners seem to have succumbed to the shaming you refer to and removed this fun feature. –  plainclothes Dec 27 '12 at 5:24
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