Discover Your Inner Geek!

Mashups and my final post

So first of all, THANK YOU Cheryl for this great course. You’ve shown me so much and I can truly say that I have learned alot and enjoyed the experience. I think that bringing fun, meaning and learning to people is a great gift and you have given us all that with this course. I now have some new tools to play with that will contribute to and enrich my work with students.

Although this is not a map mashup, it does combine many of my favorite things: Audio – TEDTalks, Visuals – graphics with a wordle look and video all combined to produce a good message. Have a look.

Another application of mashups that I’d like to pursue is an idea from an earlier post about mashups that referred to timelines. I think about how often I’ve heard graduating students say “If only I had known this when I started!” So I thought, what if we put together a timeline mashup with lessons learned or words of wisdom of graduating students. Things that they wish they’d done in first year through to graduation. It could connect new students to activities, programs and services they could benefit from sooner rather than later. I’ll have to work on it!

The Tog Cloud: A Rag-Tag Post

     I guess it’s no great surprise that one of the learning skills geeks-in-training would be such a keener that she’d feel compelled to try out tag clouds and wordles (I much prefer the aesthetic of the latter), and to explore the whole idea of crowd smarts, as well. An anarchist at heart, I’m a bit surprised by my inclination to be (at least a little bit) receptive to the idea that there’s, well, if not “wisdom” in crowds (I’m too much of an intellectual snob to fully embrace that notion), then maybe a lesson to be learned in crowd behaviour, thoughts, trends. I guess what it suggests to me is that people aren’t exempt from the patterns of nature (duh). The idea presented of crowds coming up with a “collective solution” doesn’t seem so very far removed from a huge flock of birds suddenly and frenetically gathering and calling before a big storm—and then, just as abruptly, falling into subdued silence and stillness as the storm hits. As a group, they seem to be able to tap into some wisdom that we solitary humans just don’t get.

     This instinctive crowd sense (if not, really, intelligence) struck me in a stark human embodiment of the “tag cloud” last week at Sam’s “retirement” party. Here’s a photograph that a friend took of the event: Continue reading this entry »

TagCloud or Wordle?

If you’d asked me a few weeks ago if I’d be sharing my thoughts on tagsclouds or wordles I would not have known what you were talking about! So it appears Cheryl, that you are definitely succeeding in educating me!

When I read the post that included a “word about wordles” a few weeks ago I was intrigued and immediately went and created a bunch of wordles. It was fun to play with it (hit randomize numerous times) to change the colour and distribution of words. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that I could just print or save to their gallery! (I did figure out a way around that one!) I was equally delighted to discover all about tagclouds. I also dumped my resume in both the wordle and tagcloud sites to see what would happen. The visual image was quite illuminating. I agree with Josh, the wordle was more fun and colourful. It also allowed more words so it had a bigger impact. I started to wonder if this could be used to help people clarify their own understanding of their skills and experiences. When you actually see which words hold more space and which do not, it sharpens the focus. I think this could be an interesting career clarification exercise.

Not-So-Belated Thoughts, Volume 3: Tags

Alright, that was fun.  I took my résumé and plunked it into TagCrowd (after removing the dates since things like “oct. 2008” are not interesting) and the results were interesting.  Judging by the size, I could easily tell that I gained a lot of experience as a student at the University of Guelph in Ontario.  True.  However, what was more interesting was to see were words like “community”, “management”, “provided”, “support”, and “team” displayed very prominently.  Although I am obviously the author of my résumé, it is a strange thing to see these themes appear visually – stranger still that I am not sure it was entirely intentional.

Due to the sad blue colours in TagCrowd, I then put my resume in Wordle, played it it for a bit, and smiled a little more.  Colour is good.

Now, on the topic of the wisdom of crowds, I am about 82% in favour of such wisdom.  First, the 18% rant.  Although more about tagging than crowds, this rant comes as a result of too much time looking for stock images on various websites, like stock.xchng.  What some people think makes sense is lost on others.  For example, if I am looking for a photo of a “glass of water” and the perfect image has been tagged as a “cup of refreshingness”, there is very little chance I will ever find it (unless I use special tools).  The same (albeit not as ridiculous) can be said about crowds (good segway).  Say some university staff-types decide that they were going to offer a very useful workshop on “engaging the university community”, but the students looking for information keep searching for “campus involvement” – there’s going to be a disconnect between the two dissimilar crowds and their respective folksonomies.

My rant was not meant to cast a doom and gloom cloud over tags (that would be the worst kind of tag cloud) – I actually find them quite delightful.  To return to my previous example, if you have one person who tags “cup of refreshingness” and ninety-nine who tag “glass of water”, the crowd has made up for the individual’s eccentricities and I will have found my perfect image.  Often times, common sense is not that common in one, but is common in the greater commons (future famous quote, patent pending).  Seriously though, if you allow a community to create and use its own language rather than trying to artificially impose a language upon that community, I think that community is more apt to success and flourish.  Otherwise, trying to impose language on the crowd may be doubleplusungood.


P.S.  I have tagged this post as “refreshingness”, should you wish to find it later.

P.P.S.  I’m up-to-date again.  Yea!

A word about wordles

On the topic of visualization (which Val introduced), a friend of mine who is a graduate student in computer science specializing in visualization turned me on to wordles last year. It is a simple, elegant toy that anyone can use to create word clouds out of text. It became immensely popular very quickly (even the Obama campaign used a wordle). Here’s a wordle of some of the recent posts made on the Inner Geek blog.

I’m not sure if wordles count as images, so just in case (to make sure I earn my geek point this week), also wanted to share some amazing photos from a former U of T student who served with the Red Cross in Afghanistan for a year. Some of these photos now hang in the meeting room on the third floor of 21 Sussex Ave.