Clouds of Comments

A couple of days ago, we noticed that the Digital Britain report had received over 100 comments. So to celebrate I created a Wordle word cloud from the RSS feed of comments. The feed currently provides up to 200 comments, so I was able to pull everything into Wordle. We mentioned it on Twitter, linking to the image on WriteToReply’s Flickr account and that made some people happy.

I know what you’re thinking: Wordle’s yesterday’s toy. You can’t turn around without seeing a bloody Wordle these days. And you’re right. In the back of my mind, I knew we could do more to celebrate passing ‘the centenary’. So did Tony…

So duty-bound, I looked around and found FeedVis. It’s free software and a really slick way of getting an overview of the comment trends, browsing the comments and navigating through to the full comments on the report. Don’t tell me it’s yesterday’s toy. Please.

It’s interesting to compare the Wordle word cloud with the word cloud produced by FeedVis. ‘Music’ and ‘Industry’ feature heavily in the first cloud, but less so in the second, where ‘access’, ‘content’, ‘digital’, industry’ and ‘technological’ are all favoured pretty equally in terms of how often they’re repeated. By default, Wordle looks for a maximum of the most popular 150 words and shows their relative popularity by increasing or decreasing the size of the word. FeedVis is more sophisticated. It uses stemming (where Wordle doesn’t), so words like ‘fast’ and ‘faster’ (<cough> broadband <cough>) are mapped for the purpose of counting their frequency. There’s a couple of other important features, too:

  • The first is frequency. Frequency says how many times a word is used per 1000 words. If you hover over a word, you’ll see its frequency to the left of the frequency change value.
  • The second is frequency change. Often, a word will be more (or less) popular than usual in a certain time period (for instance, “election” in early November). Frequency change measures that difference as a percentage: greener words are unusually popular; redder words are the opposite.

Here’s a screenshot from earlier today. Click on the image to visit the FeedVis of the Digital Britain – Interim Report itself. Hopefully, we can find more tools like this to add to the WriteToReply suite of ways which comments can be read, viewed and interpreted by us all, including the authors of the reports. If you know of any, please leave a comment. Thanks.

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4 thoughts on “Clouds of Comments

  1. Jason Priem

    Hey, it’s Jason, the guy who wrote FeedVis. I checked out your implementation, and it looks great! I really like what your site is doing.

    Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions for the software.

  2. Joss Post author

    Hi Jason. Sorry it’s been so hectic recently that I’ve not gotten around to contacting you directly. We started using it three days ago and haven’t had much time to reflect yet on how we might like to develop it, but we will and will be in touch. Thanks very much for your sharing your work. Very impressive.

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