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!