Users of the Wordle resource have been dismayed by the notice that's currently posted to the website, which states that Wordle.net is down until further notice. "I am seeking pro bono legal advice, to evaluate a trademark claim against my use of the word "Wordle" for this web site. If you're an intellectual property lawyer, with expertise in trademark law, and you wish to offer professional advice on this matter, please contact me." I think it would have been helpful if some more details had been given, since there's rumours rife on Twitter at the moment regarding who the conflict is with. Some suggest IBM (for reasons that I don't quite get), and other people are pointing a finger at the producers of an app called Wordle, which has been submitted as an app to the Apps store. I've left a comment on their blog page asking them to clarify this - boycott suggestions are already appearing on Twitter, so they're going to dragged into this one way or another. [Edit to add: There is a live trademark for the use of the word owned by an American photographer - but no idea if he's involved with this issue at all.]
It's also worth saying that this doesn't mean that Wordle is 'dead'. I think it's really stupid and irresponsible of people to say that it is. 'Down until further notice' does not mean 'dead' - it means, oddly enough, that it's down until further notice. Even if it can't continue under that name there's no reason why it shouldn't come back under another name.
Meanwhile, what are the alternatives to Wordle? There are a variety of choices that people may wish to consider.
TagCrowd is a free alternative that can be used without any kind of registration. It's simple to use, though more limited than Wordle, since users can't fine control the output. However, results can be saved, embedded onto blogs and websites or kept as a PDF. I used the Gettysburg Address as my sample text, and this is what I got:
This is ok, but not that exciting. Users can't control the colours or positioning, but they can choose the maximum number of words to use, include a stop word list, and can group similar words together.
WordSift is another resource that's worth trying out. The same text produced the following cloud:
Again, not terribly exciting, but WordSift does give you more options than just a word cloud. Words can be dragged around the screen for example, so if you don't like the way in which something is displayed you can always change it. Sorting is also possible - common to rare, rare to common, A-Z, Z-A. The tag cloud words can also be marked up, either custom, or according to categories such as Language, Science, Maths or Social Studies. This simply pops the words into a different colour, but it's a very useful training aid in the classroom.
WordSift does more than this however - there is much more detail available to users. Under the word cloud there are images appropriate to the words in the cloud, and these can be clicked and dragged into a sandbox on the same page. Users can also search for a particular word in the Visual Thesaurus that's on the site, in order to see the relationships between different terms.
If you're a teacher, WordSift is a tremendous resource, and there's no registration required. It's also worth saying that it's been produced by Stanford University as well, so it has a good pedigree. The main disadvantage that I can see is that it's not easy to save the word cloud unless you use a 3rd party application. That's disappointing.
ABCya! is another option. Simply type/paste your words into the box and it will create a cloud for you. Unlike Wordle, it's not possible to link to a URL RSS feed, which is a shame, but not dreadful. This is the cloud that it produced for me:
Much more Wordle like! Moreover, the cloud can be randomised, the fonts changed, the colours altered, the layout can also be changed. No registration required and it's free. If you want as close a Wordle experience as possible, this is probably the best one to try.
Tagul is a similar resource, but with significant differences. Mouseover words and they will flick into horizontal and will be zoomed, so it's visually quite exciting. Clicking on the term you've chosen will then lead to a Google search for it, but it's possible to link to other sites or pages instead. In order to use the service registration is required and you're limited to 10 clouds. Words can be pasted in to be used, or users can provide a URL instead. Users can choose the shape of the cloud, font, angles of words. An example is below - I kept as much as possible to defaults in order to ensure a fair comparision.
Clouds can be embedded, but the resource does require some work and thought to get the most out of it. If you're a teacher you'd be best advised to prepare the cloud prior to a lesson, unlike other resources that will just pull up a cloud for you.
WordItOut is another resource that you can just use directly, without registration. Words can be pasted, or you can provide a URL to the application. Colours can be changed, as can font, size, number of colours, but layout doesn't appear as an option. This is what you get:
ImageChef word mosaic is another alternative that I've found. This one is again slightly different in that you can choose to create a cloud in a specific shape - a heart, exclaimation mark, envelope, skull and so on. It's quite a 'pop' type site, with options for changing shapes, colours and fonts. Very easy to save, share on Twitter, email and so on. If you're working with children this is certainly worth exploring. My text is so inappropriate for the default options of heart and pink/black, but again, I'm trying my best to keep out of any designing myself for this review.
TagCloud builder is a project of OCLC Research. Another fairly basic resource, and it arranges words alphabetically, so it's not very visually exciting. You can however change colours, group like words and save the results. Here's the Gettysburg address again:
Tag Cloud is a nice resource, but limited in that you can't give it some words to paste - you have to give it a URL, so I provided it with a page that had the Address text on it, which is as close as I could get to a fair comparison. You can change the font size and minimum word count, but that's your lot. This one did however provide both a static cloud and a flash version, so I've included that for a bit of difference. You can mouse over it, to move the words around, so it's quite fun. It's not quite as messy as it looks!
VocabGrabber is more like WordSift, since it takes some text and provides more information about the words used. It gives a word list, definitions of words, and it's possible to sort for relevance, A-Z, occurrences and familiarity. The results page looks like this:
So - a roundup of options. But let's hope that Wordle comes back soon, shall we? While I liked several of the options, I still find Wordle the most flexible and easy to use.