Wise to the Wordle

For some time now I've been planning to add a Wordle graphic to the blog. The one below, set in a font called Tank Lite, has at this writing just been slipped into the sidebar between my general and exhaustive lists of post labels. It's followed by four more further down, using four other fonts: Kenyan Coffee, Grilled Cheese BTN, Enamel Brush, and Chunk Five.

Wordle is an online application created by Jonathan Feinberg. You enter a bunch of text into its box and it produces a nifty "word cloud" out of that, customizable in typeface, color, and (to an extent) layout, with the size of each word or phrase based on the frequency with which it appears in the source text.

The bad news is that it doesn't work quite as easily as I thought it was supposed to. The good news is that the problems I encountered are surmountable, I'll tell you how I dealt with them, and you still end up with a great-looking graphic through what based on Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law I'm gonna say is magic — I get in an abstract way how what goes on behind the curtain is possible through rigorous programming but I left such efforts behind myself when the original Macintosh was barely a thing.

On Wordle's Create page you're prompted to either "Paste in a bunch of text" or "Enter the URL of any blog [etc.] ... that has an Atom or RSS feed." My blog has such feeds but the Wordle that results is based on the truncated feed of the posts on just the front page, which is of little use to me. I'd love to see a cloud built from all the text, minus common words, on my blog; what I really want, though, is one derived from my labels — a nicer one than the rudimentary cloud that Blogger offers, or used to offer, through its sidebar gadgets. To make one using Wordle I had to go through my label list and enter each one manually as many times as it appears on the blog, so "24" went in twice, "30 Rock" (or, actually, "30~Rock" since the way you tell Wordle to keep words in a single phrase together is by placing a tilde between them) went in once, "3D" went in five times, and so forth, all without the quotes.

I used cut-and-paste for the big repeats, of course. And the busy work was actually done offline in a TextEdit document for a couple of reasons, including the fact that I wanted to have an editable record. Once you hit the "Go" button underneath the window into which the text is pasted, you can't recover that text, meaning that if you need to rework anything you're starting over. In the three months following my first creation of a batch of Wordles based on my blog labels, I've periodically added to the TextEdit document as new posts produce new labels and/or new instances of extant labels, because I anticipate wanting to update the graphic periodically to keep pace.

The color scheme and typeface in which your Wordle first appears is randomly generated but you can change the language, font, layout, and color immediately using a series of drop-down menus. Since I learned long ago not to trust Blogger, in addition to HTML and rich-text versions of all my posts (as well as periodic exports of the blog's entire code) I keep a record of the hexadecimal color codes used on the blog, making it simple to customize the Wordles' palette to match my color scheme.

All of the Wordles here use a mostly-horizontal layout except one that's strictly horizontal. You'll play around and find what goes best with your taste and the scheme of your own blog or whatever endeavor prompts to you Wordle it up. Java doesn't let you export the graphic you've created; you need to take a screenshot to capture it.

Each of the fonts I've used appeals to me in a different way, but for now I'm sticking with the first one shown. If you have a preference for any of the other four I'd like to hear it. Likewise I hope you'll let me know if you hit any snags using Wordle in case I'm able to help based on my experiences. You're not allowed to blame me if you get addicted.

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