Word Clouds ... Huh, Yeah ... What Are They Good For?

This morning I signed on to Twitter to find this from @ColonelTribune [one of my favorite Tweeters by the way]

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To which I replied, Does it seem like someone produces a word cloud every time he opens his mouth. Really any value?

The good Colonel DMd me a reply [a 140 character retort or sorts], which basically said, hey it's so simple to create and some people like them.  Why not?

That's right, some people do like them ... because it makes you feel like you watched the speech, when you really read about watching the speech [you have to read Noah Brier's very funny post to know what I mean].

I think word clouds [and other such visuals] have a habit of letting us get away with being lazy.  Let's take President Obama's speech last night ... what could a word cloud tell me that any one of the following couldn't much more accurately:

  • Watching the actual speech live [ was covered on countless TV stations]
  • Watching it on YouTube at my leisure
  • Reading the transcript
  • Reading in-depth coverage in every news outlet around the world

Yes, I realize the word cloud doesn't replace all these, but what does the cloud below tell us?  That the President talked about the American economy, education, health care and job creation.  I think we knew that going into this speech.
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NOW, I do think word clouds have their place - when aggregating a massive amount of data to find true trends [e.g. every Presidential speech to joint sessions of Congress, ever].

Please, someone present a solid defense for the popularity of word clouds. Or even better, what are some good uses?

And to prove my point, here's a tag cloud of this post [courtesy of TagCrowd.com].  Apparently it was all about a speech and watching something.  Not.  It was a critique of word clouds, which can't communicate context.
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