Working on a word cloud engine

I’m starting work on a Twitter client with word clouds as its primary feature. My plan is to build the components separately as individual apps to get feedback and iterate from there. Some people in StartupGuild sounds interested in the concept and it looks like a guy in Quora wants word clouds in his Twitter client (his name sounds like a guy). Seeing these two signals, I think it is enough market validation to “proceed with care”.

On one hand it looks like Twitter isn’t being used much among teachers. At least that is the answer that I’m getting from asking questions in LinkedIn. Furthermore, the answers sounds like nobody are aware of the Twitter studies done by Dr Monica Rankin or by Dr Rey Junco.On the other hand, searching the #edchat and #edtech hashtags shows many educators who uses Twitter. Sure there are many self-proclaimed social media wizards and a few looneys giving out free iPad 2s. But there are a good number of legit-sounding headmasters, college professors, and K-12 teachers in those channels.

This looks conflicting.

Is the demographic between “Twitter people” and “LinkedIn people” that different? It could be so. Personally I use Twitter more than LinkedIn. I find LinkedIn website to be slow that makes me don’t feel like using it much. Although Twitter’s website is not much faster, I use fat clients (Twitter apps) that mask most of the website’s sluggishness – I rarely access the website directly. Unfortunately, LinkedIn’s official iPhone app doesn’t have the Q&A nor much other interaction feature outside messaging, so I don’t find much use for the app.

Then again, asking questions in LinkedIn yields much higher response rate than asking around in Twitter using hashtags. Surfing hashtags in Twitter is like walking into a large hall in which most people are talking loudly by themselves.

In any case I’m starting by coding up the word cloud generator and probably release it as a standalone app for the Mac. It looks like Lion’s text processing features will be a big help in this area, especially for processing Unicode texts (not every language use a space for word boundaries, for example). I’d probably release it as a free app – it functions roughly the same as Wordle, which is free and probably a free app allows me to get quicker feedback on the engine’s quality.

Besides, word clouds can also be applied for other uses beyond a Twitter client. The next thing that came into mind is a file manager. Something similar in spirit to the Raskin file manager but geared more toward wordsmiths rather than visual designers. That brings up the question: would you like a tag-cloud based file manager?

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