Friday, May 22, 2009

Wordle Wins a Webby!

Congratulations to Jonathan Feinberg on winning the Webby Award! The Webby Awards celebrates the best Websites, Interactive Advertising, Online Film & Video, and Mobile applications with The Webby Award and The People's Voice Award. This year Wordle -- Feinberg's popular tool for turning text into dazzling visualizations that can be shared with others -- took both honors in the The Best Use of Typography category. Of the thousands of entries received, less than 15% are nominated, and only two in each category take the prize. Members of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences choose the nominees for both awards in each category, as well as the winners of the Webby Awards. But the People's Voice award is the collective voice of people from the worldwide online community who vote for their favorites.

We sat down with Jonathan, to ask him a few questions about Wordle and winning the Webby.

How did you get the idea for Wordle?

Excerpted from Can I have a Wordle with you? -- an IBM Research Computer Science Spotlight interview with Jonathan.

The core of the visual part of Wordle -- the word layout algorithm -- is something I developed as a tangent while working on another project called Dogear, which is a social bookmarking engine.

One of the ubiquitous features of social bookmarking is a tag cloud. A tag cloud is a layout of the most frequently used tags, tags being arbitrary text key-words that people assign to their bookmarks, or by extension, to other resources. It's kind of a gestalt or a gist way of looking at the work you've been doing or of the metadata you've been creating.

The tag clouds I saw at the time were pretty boring and in my opinion kind of ugly. One day a blogger who calls himself Black Belt Jones put on the Web a really simple but very lovely tag cloud that he had made of his own tags from the Delicious social bookmarking engine. He had represented some of the tags in different fonts and he’d laid them out in interesting angles on the page, and he even had the dot of an “i” inside the counter of a G. I thought there's got to be a way to write a computer program to do that.

What has been the response you've gotten so far?

I've received thousands of emails from all kinds of people who enjoy using Wordle. Many of the emails have suggested FAQs, design refinements, and new features.

Do you have a favorite Wordle? What was it used for?

There have been many. The one I remember most fondly is the Boston Globe's comparison of the Obama and McCain blogs. That was the first time I thought that someone had understood how to exploit specific choices in font, layout, and color.

Obama Vs. McCain blog comparison

How do you feel about winning the Webby?

I take the Webby award as a validation of Wordle's design as a web application -- not, necessarily, as a visualization. While I would have done a couple of things differently, knowing what I know now, I think that my decision to privilege "low barrier to entry" as a design constraint has been vindicated.

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