Recently I came to the realization that word clouds are pretty cool. The word cloud or text cloud is simply a visualization of word frequency in a given text. In the past few years they have become extremely popular – and they are easy to create on sites like wordle or tagxedo. You can find them on tons of blogs and websites, and more and more in research deliverables. In fact, they are so sticky that they are commonly used by news outlets to bring a visual aspect to their stories. For example, here are two word clouds comparing an Obama speech versus a Cheney speech on the same day.
Sure they’re popular, but do they provide the deep insight and contextual understanding that qualitative research strives to deliver? I don’t think so, and I am not only one. As Tom Anderson notes in his NGMR Top-5 HOT vs. Top-5 NOT, “…A savvy client side executive will soon fire a high profile supplier for showing one word cloud too many.” That being said, when I look at a word cloud do I like the look of it? Does it immediately capture my attention? Do I scrutinize the big and small words? Absolutely. Why? Because they are cool and sticky; they have color, they are simple, they seem tangible and they allow me to quickly analyze, interpret and make conclusions. And I think clients like them for the same reasons I do.
In an earlier posting, I made the case that deliverables need to tell the whole story. While word clouds do not, my hope is that they can still be a part of the bigger insight picture. After all, as long as objectives are being met, what’s wrong with throwing a little cool in?