Visualizing Word Relationships
December 7, 2009
From a young age I've had a fascination with "word books." I'll admit to being one of those kids who sometimes sat down and read the dictionary... you know the ones who are just infatuated with words? My older brother gave me a hard cover thesaurus for a high school graduation gift. It was one of the best gifts I got, and probably the only one (except for the Samsonite luggage my parents gave me) that I still own and use.
If I were a kid today, I'd probably be just as fascinated with the new "visual thesaurus" online tools that are springing up on the Internet. These tools represent word relationships in a sort of web, showing the connections that are close as a knot of tightly grouped words, the loose connections sort of drifting away on a tether, the antonyms in an opposing color, and so on. By displaying information visually, they tell us something about words and the relationships among them that I don't think I can quite get from my old thesaurus. For this reason I think they might make a helpful tool for adult learners, especially those who are grappling with complicated vocabulary.
There are several tools available online. The simplest is the "Lightweight Visual Thesaurus" at http://awordlike.textdriven.com. It's free and has a really clean, simple interface. The most elaborate is probably www.visualthesaurus.com, but sadly, it's not free (except for a two-week trial). My personal favorite is www.visuwords.com. It's free and it has several really sweet features, including: zooming in on words using the scroll button on your mouse, displaying different kinds of relationships with different styles of color-coded connectors (dashed lines, arrows, etc.) and also showing the parts of speech using color coding.
Try them out and let me know what you think! If you know of another visual thesaurus that I missed, please let me know and I'll include it.