EXPLORING WORDS WITH VISUAL THESAURUS APPS “lorrain croy” lorrain croy
Two new interactive apps for the iPad use tree-like branching to visualize words, and excite students about words and the relations between them. The apps have hot new user interfaces, and very different business models.
The first app (codenamed ‘WordNodes’) aims to be published this summer. It pairs a great experience with a low price. Created by nonprofit IDEA.org (http://www.idea.org/about/), the app will display visual clusters of related words, including synonyms, antonyms, as well as more general, and more specific words, and commonly confused words. Within the node for each word are multiple parts of speech, definitions, and etymologies. Students can bookmark works, label them with tags, or share using email, Twitter, Dropbox, or Evernote.
WordNodes reflects how crowdfunding is reshaping the incentives of app developers, helping innovative and useful new classroom apps see the light of day. “It’s a miracle when schools get a fleet of iPads,” says project leader Michael Douma, “but often they don’t have the software budget to back it up.” Douma says that free apps tend to be downloaded 10 to 100 times as much as cheap apps. “If your goal is to inspire millions of people, the app needs to be free,” he says.
You (or your school) can help bring this app to life by supporting this Kickstarter. (http://kck.st/xGZAqR) Kickstarter projects are only funded if they reach their funding goal, which is $7500 for this app, so backers are not at risk of funding a project that doesn’t have enough funds to succeed. In addition to the satisfaction of helping build an app, backers can receive perks like postcards or coffee cups. Here’s their video:
WordNodes will be based on SpicyNodes, a visualization approach that IDEA.org developed, which won the 2011 “Website for Teaching and Learning” award from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The definitions, etymologies and synonyms will come from Wordnik (http://www.Wordnik.com/). Sources for Worknik include: ‘American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language’, Wiktionary, and several open source dictionaries. In total, WordNik has 650,000 words that appear in at least one of their dictionaries. The IDEA.org team previously used SpicyNodes in an iPad app for browsing Wikipedia articles, called WikiNodes (http://go.idea.org/wn-itunes-idea.org).
Another novel feature of WordNodes will be word blends, in which two words are connected by multiple words that have slightly different definitions. In this sketch above, ‘ugly’ on the left blends with ‘beautiful’ on the right. Imagine how useful this can be to find just the right word, or help students understand how words are like the “telephone” game, with multiple meanings.
See the project here. (http://kck.st/xGZAqR) – And consider backing it!
The other new app is the ‘TWIG Touch Dictionary’ ($35, though currently on sale for $25), published last month. Developed by London-based Dynamic Interface Solutions (http://dynamicinterface.com/about/index.html), the app also uses a tree-like mindmap. Their data source is the Oxford Dictionary of English (355,000 words, phrases and definitions) and the Oxford Thesaurus of English. They have a more traditional business model, charging the end-user, so it’s costly. The app is a 750 MB download, and can work offline. Here’s a promo video for TWIG:
WordNodes vs. TWIG
Both WordNodes and TWIG use branching metaphors, have powerful searching that can match partial words, use physics-based animations, bookmarking, random words, and pronunciation recordings. WordNodes is focused on linking from word to word; whereas, TWIG is focused on exploring all the nuanced sub-definitions of individual words.