A Visual Thesaurus

I actually was in need of a thesaurus the other day. I went to my old faithful on the web and looked for my term. I got a couple of ideas, used one, and then moved on. The whole experience wasn’t terribly different from using a thesaurus like I did in school. It was largely text based and that’s fine since you’re just looking for more text as a result.

As I was using it though, I had the sense that using this thesaurus is very similar to doing a web search.  I’m not inspired to look further than the first few suggestions, assuming that the online service knew what it was doing and gave the best answers first.  I thought about students using that technique and could understand when people complain about the limitations of using internet for research.  I wondered – is there a better way to implement a thesaurus.

So, I did a little poking around and found something that seems to fit the bill.  It’s called the Visual Thesaurus.  Same basic concept; same sort of results but an entirely different implementation.

Doug, you’ve got to give it the ol’ acid test. What happens when I look for house in the thesaurus.

The results come back and as you can see, they’re anything but linear.  Mouse over any of the connecting nodes and a descriptor pops up with more details.  Very cool.

You can use the Visual Thesaurus for a limited number of lookups and then they do ask for a registration fee and do have institutional rates.

Now, it doesn’t stop there.  This certainly helps with looking up a single term while writing, but how about the bigger picture – oh, say a blog entry?  Digging a little deeper into the site reveals a utility called VocabGrabber.  This is quite impressive.

I fed my blog post “This Week in Ontario Edublogs” into the VocabGrabber.  From there, I asked it to analyze things.  The first results I noticed was a word frequency chart with the more frequently used words in larger type.  We’ve seen this before, right?

It appears that I used the word “stylus” quite a bit.  Let me see how the thesaurus could help with my writing.

I’ve got the five examples where I used the word in the blog post, a couple of definitions, and a visual exploration of the tool.  This looks like a really helpful writing and revision tool.  I think I may just add this to my arsenal.  I like the concept and there are days when I feel like I need all the writing help I can get!

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