TextArc: A Marriage Of Literature With Technology (With Pics)

Watching TextArc cycle through Alice in Wonderland is amazing. The text flows around the edge of the image, and as the words are drawn and associations are made in flowing color, the work of literature comes alive.

This is one of the coolest things we have brought to you in some time. Itis a project called TextArc from W. Bradford Paley that marries literature and technology in such a way as to offer new ways of looking at the written word. TextArc is, in a nutshell, one of the most innovative ways to examine the relationship of words within a work (be it novel, play, Web site, or even speech). The goal of TextArc is to visually show the links between words, their distribution in the text, and their location relative to each other, which allows us to see the way words work with each other to tell a story.

See below for information on prints, and a special discount TextArc is offering TMO readers for those prints.

What it does

The idea is a deceptively simple one: The entire text is drawn around the page in an arc, hence the name TextArc, to show the full body of work to be examined. Words that are frequently used are then drawn brighter and larger than those around it. Any word that is used more than once is placed in the center of its mentions. It helps, according to the TextArc.org project, to "think of the word as being attached to every place it is used in the text by tiny rubber bands. Those forces pull each word closer to where it appears most often in the text."


The live interactive online display
( see below for more information)
This screen shot shows all the connections
"Alice" has to other words in the text.
(Click the thumbnail for a very large version of this image to see the details)

So what?

What TextArc allows for is a comprehensive visual guide to some of the worldis most important pieces of literature. For both scholars and lay people, seeing the associations in a text becomes as easy as reading the text itself. Often, literary analysis relies on the relationships of certain passages of a work. Seeing these relationships through TextArc opens up even more possibilities for interpretation and understanding, and can clearly reveal otherwise obscure relationships.

It can be technical, but it can also be beautiful. Watching TextArc cycle through Alice in Wonderland is amazing. The text flows around the edge of the image, and as the words are drawn and associations are made in flowing color, the work of literature comes alive.

In short, TextArc offers people a whole new way of looking at the written word, and thatis not limited to novels, either. Project lead W. Bradford Paley tells TMO that the technology works equally well on any body of words. Imagine TextArc applied to the body of speech from a politician, or the poetry of a culture, etc.

Itis nice to look at

The project is being offered to the public in two ways. The first is through an online Java application you view through your browser. TextArc.org just recently removed a warning that Mac users canit view the project; Mr. Paley tells TMO the warning was there due to issues with versions of the Java VM (the software that makes Java run on the Mac platform) in the Classic Mac OS. Mac OS X brought improvements to the Java VM that allows the CPU intensive software to run well on a moderately fast G3 or G4. That said, there is a "sound" feature that does not currently work on the Mac, and it will slow your system down if you click on it. Mr. Paley tells us he is looking for a Mac-oriented Java programmer to help with that problem

The online version of the presentation shows you the TextArc and the word relations, but it does many more things, as well. The entire story will actually unfold at the bottom of the screen, and as each word deemed important by the software comes up, its own special relationships are highlighted. While this is happening, a colored line actually follows the path the words are taking, again allowing you to see the way the words interact. If thatis not enough for you, you can run your cursor over any of the words in the middle of the presentation, and those relationships will again be displayed. Itis a process that has been described as fascinating by many of TMOis staff members, and members of our forum and IRC community as well.


Alice being read.
Note the text at the bottom; thatis the story being told, or read, to you.
The orange line is tracing the story, while the purple loops show other element interactions.
(Click the thumbnail for a very large version of this image to see the details)

Prints

TextArc is also selling posters based on the project as well. There are limited edition prints for US$1500 to US$5000 each, but the project has made a run of posters for Alice In Wonderland that are being sold for US$49.95 each, substantially more affordable for mortals. TextArc is offering TMO readers a special US$5 discount off that price, as well. The company tells us that if you want to get an order by Christmas, you need to order today. You can find more information on the poster at the TextArc.com Web site. To get the TMO discount, enter the coupon code of "tmo" at order (without the quotes).


A low-res screen shot of the poster.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger version of this image)


This is a closeup of the printed poster.
(Click the thumbnail for details)

TextArc.org is the projectis main Web site that offers the online viewings of the Java viewer, whereas the TextArc.com site offers the commercial prints. You can find more information on all that we have mention at those links.

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