This post will focus on the usage of Word Clouds in modern textual analysis as well as what I and many others believe to be their various shortcomings. A few other blog posts listed in the module notes for our previous three sessions have presented valuable perspectives on this practice and from their viewpoints I will be primarily reflective.
I make no claims to originality with this opinion and I will happily join the chorus of criticism against word clouds. Ultimately, my criticism centers on their superficiality as well as their ease of access which is often misconstrued as utility by new users. When tinkering around with Voyant Tools, I found myself using Moby Dick as a bit of source material to fairly unsurprising results. The most common word was displayed to me and who would have guessed, it was whale.
To me and many others, this is the crux of the matter. Word clouds are wholly unimpressive uses of text mining functionality and offer very little to anyone other than what we would already expect. When we attempt to engage with this practice in the context of wider data analysis as a whole, it is clear that much more robust tools are required.
As mentioned at the start of this post, word clouds are superficial and often simply behave as design elements of any document more than they serve any meaningful analytical role. What may begin as an earnest excavation of the key points of whatever is being run through a word cloud, ultimately ends at the top soil of the text without the addition of more nuanced methods.
The value of word clouds comes from their ease of access. However, this seems to often be conflated with the utility of the technology. As a fairly introductory example of text mining, word clouds are fun for the user as they give the sense of accomplishment in a field they may be new to. In a blog post by Shelby Temple, they equate the usage of a word cloud with the coders traditional first “hello world!” program. Both are more for-their-creator rather than for anyone hoping to glean any meaningful insight from the creation.
All in all, the Word Cloud happily occupies its corner of beginners level text analysis, but for professionals and the like it is merely a first step into a much larger field.