Word clouds – Wordle, WordArt or Tagxedo?
Word clouds are a method of displaying words on a screen. It is particularly useful for showing the frequency of words in a text, with words that occur more frequently in the text appearing in a larger font than words that occur less frequently. An example of their use could be to get learners to predict the content of a text or for displaying vocabulary about a particular topic.
A variety of websites have sprung up that enable users to create word clouds; three of my favourites are Wordle, WordArt and Tagxedo. Although the sites appear to do the same thing (create a word cloud), they do have some significant differences.
Of the three sites, Wordle is perhaps the simplest to use. You simply paste some text into the box and press the ‘go’ button to create a word cloud that looks instantly quite attractive. There are options to change the font, word orientation and colour scheme.
With the simplicity of Wordle comes a few disadvantages. The biggest one is that word clouds cannot be saved. In fact, once a word cloud has been created, the only way to add words to it is to create another word cloud.
Wordle’s reliance on Java could also be a potential problem, as many computers block the Java plugin as a security precaution. However, the use of Java can also be an advantage, as according to the site’s FAQ: ‘no information leaves your workstation at any time’.
WordArt (formerly Tagul) is a commercial word cloud site that offers a wider range of customisation options than Wordle. These options include the ability to create word clouds from different shapes and embedding links to other websites into words. The latter feature can be quite useful, as a link can be created to automatically display the definition from an online dictionary when a word is clicked, for example.
Although you need to sign up to create word clouds on WordArt, the word clouds are saved and can be edited easily. While there are many options to customise the appearance of word clouds on WordArt, I found that I had to do quite a lot of experimenting before I was able to get a word cloud that had a satisfactory appearance.
Finally, with WordArt being a commercial website, high quality downloads must be paid for. Standard definition clouds can be downloaded for free, for non commercial use.
I found Tagxedo to be similar to Tagul in terms of its features, including the ability to create word clouds from different shapes and embedding links to other websites into words.
The main difference between the two sites is that Tagxedo does not require the user to sign up and high quality images can be downloaded free. However, on the negative side, word clouds on Tagxedo aren’t saved.
Although the Tagxedo website states that it is currently in beta and features such as word cloud shapes will eventually require a subscription, it has remained in beta for quite some time now and there is no indication that it will start charging in the immediate future.
On a final note, Tagxedo uses the Silverlight plugin, which could pose problems for some users. For example, Silverlight is not supported on the Chrome browser.
There are many websites that enable users to create word clouds. However, the sites are not all the same and users should choose a site that best suits their needs. Wordle is great for busy teachers who want to create attractive word clouds with the minimum of fuss. WordArt and Tagxedo both offer greater customisation options, with WordArt allowing word clouds to be saved, while Tagxedo offers high quality downloads free.