Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oh, I just can't wait to be a librarian

I spent the evening fiddling around with tagxedo, which Erin Lee pointed me towards on her blog. I’m pretty excited about going to see The Lion King tomorrow, so I decided to play with the software by making the above image, constructed from the movie’s song lyrics.

(An aside: In writing the above sentences, I was very tempted to use “wordle” as both a verb and a noun (wordle is a program similar to tagxedo, used to make “word clouds”: aesthetically pleasing arrangements of text automatically generated from a given text source, with the size of each word correlating to the number of occurrences of the word in the source). As we discussed in class tonight, certain companies can become synonymous with the product or process which they offer—Kleenex, Xerox, Google, Hoover. While Wordle is no where near as large or as ubiquitous a company, it also offers a highly specialized product. When describing the above image, I am tempted to call it a “wordle” and call the process of creating it “wordling”. “Word cloud” is clunky, "tagxedo" is awkward with an ambiguous pronunciation, and “wordling” is way too fun to say).

Tagxedo has some fantastic features. The coolest one is the ability to upload the framing image. After selecting the image, you can adjust what they’re calling the “Threshold” which seems to pretty much be contrast, as well as the “Blur” which effects how simplified the image is (0% blur is more or less the original image, as blur increases the frame starts to look more blob like or stylized), as well as a few other features.

You can also change the color scheme and font. Right now (in the Beta) you can upload fonts (I uploaded the font “African” for The Lion King image) and create custom color schemes (with a basic understanding of html color codes) for free. Later, these services will presumably cost money, as will the ability to upload custom frames. I will be happy to pay.

Finally, under "Word / Layout Options" you have a lot of options for pretty tight control. To make a highly detailed image (a face, for example) you can increase “Maximum Word Count” or add a “Hard Boundary” (i.e. the words don’t color outside of the lines). Another useful feature is the “Skip” tab, where you can choose not to include certain words. I took out the character names (which aren’t song lyrics), other words on the page but not in the songs (“lyrics”, “modified”, etc. (and yes, I know I missed a few(and yes, I know I have an unhealthy relationship with parentheses))), plus the string parsing isn’t perfect so, for example, “isn’t” gets split into “isn” and “t”.

Word clouds are popping up all over, sometimes used to quickly and visually illustrate a point about word usage, and sometimes used just because they’re hip, or interesting, or because they software is there. Information Design (the definition of which is explored here, by our very own Jaime Snyder) is an exciting field, and one which will become increasingly relavent to librarians as more and more software becomes available which streamlines the design process. I hope Syracuse will offer the IST600 course in Information Design again this Spring, it would be a blast.

There’s a lot more to librarianship than I realized. We certainly are not just book pushers or catalogers, but then what are we? I get to spend the next two years (or ten, or fifty) figuring that out.

Oh. I just can’t wait.

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