Cloudy Outlook For Word Clouds?

Finally, an authoritative source on the un-usefulness of word clouds.  This from the NY Times’ expert software architect, Jacob Harris:

For starters, word clouds support only the crudest sorts of textual analysis, much like figuring out a protein by getting a count only of its amino acids. This can be wildly misleading; I created a word cloud of Tea Party feelings about Obama, and the two largest words were implausibly “like” and “policy,” mainly because the importuned word “don’t” was automatically excluded. (Fair enough: Such stopwords would otherwise dominate the word clouds.) A phrase or thematic analysis would reach more accurate conclusions.

How do I compare the relative frequency of lesser-used words? Also, doesn’t focusing on the occurrence of specific words instead of concepts or themes miss the facts….

And what about the readers? Word clouds leave them to figure out the context of the data by themselves…Most interesting data requires some form of translation or explanation to bring the reader quickly up to speed, word clouds provide nothing in that regard.

At least I now know that I’m not the only one who gets gloomy under threatening word clouds.  They remind of George Trow’s phrase, “Within The Context Of No Context”.

 

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