November 21, 2011

Text Visualization

I'm currently working on a visualization of the text of one of my favourite books; hopefully I'll have something to show you in a few weeks.  In the meantime I thought I'd review other visualizations of narrative text. 

Stefanie Posavec
Stef Posavec is a graphic designer who has created several beautiful and engaging visualizations of texts.  Interestingly, Stefanie creates many of her visualizations by hand rather than writing code to generate them.

Literary Organism is a tree diagram of the structure of part one of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.  The tree's hierarchy represents chapters, paragraphs, sentences and words, colour-coded according to theme.

Stef used a similar model to visualize six editions of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.  Here colour is used to denote whether a sentence survived from one edition to the next.

More of Stef's work is showcased in the profile video shown below.

Ben Fry
Speaking of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Ben Fry also designed a visualization of the book's "evolution".  Fry's visualization shows the "preservation of favoured traces", by colouring passages in the text according to the edition in which they were first introduced and animating the results.

Stephan Thiel
Stephan Thiel's Understanding Shakespeare project takes several approaches to visualizing different aspects of the works of Shakespeare.

Below, dramatic structure is visualized by showing an overview of the entire play.  Each scene is represented by a block that is scaled according to its length.  Characters are ordered from left-to-right according to when they first appear in the play with the major character's speeches being highlighted.

The next example shows summaries of each play.  They were constructed by choosing the most representative passage from each speech as determined by the frequency of the words it contains.

The visualizations below were created by grouping together each character's statements that begin with a personal pronoun (I, you, he, she, them ...); the aim being to discover the character's role within the play.

This visualization shows only the stage directions found in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The final set of visualizations attempts to identify famous quotes within each play.  Selected quotes are scaled according to the number of hits returned when searching for them on Google.

Many Eyes
I've blogged about IBM's social visualization platform, Many Eyes, previously.  It provides several text visualization tools, and many users have applied these to various famous texts.  Below are three visualizations I created for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Click on a visualization to interact with it.

The first is an example of the ubiquitous Word Cloud.

Below is a Word Tree for all sentences starting with the word "Boo". Each branch of the tree groups together sentences that start with the same words (from higher levels of the tree), with words scaled according to their frequency.

The last example is a Phrase Network that visualizes all three-word phrases that match "____ to ____".

In my search for visualizations of famous texts I inevitably came across visualizations of The Bible. In fact, there were so many that I'll review them in a future post.