So I was at my group meeting on Friday, and, wouldn’t you guess, our tool, Wordseer, wasn’t up. That’s to be expected occaisonally with any program you find hosted on the internet, because servers crash, updates are installed, tested, etc. but then it happened again today.
When, over the course of a week, the tool is down twice at the very least. It starts to indicate, at least to me, that it has some technical issues to solve. Now, I’m a computer-science major as well as an English one, so I understand technical difficulties, and accept that there are plenty of tools out there with such difficulties… But not all their problems are technical.
For the purpose and remainder of this blog, I’m going to assume a hypothetical next genereation Wordseer and to this Wordseer 2.0 I’m going to attribute as many things that would be helpful as possible. This way I would be suggesting improvments as opposed to criticizing Wordseer for what it is not.
The first and most useful thing that is missing and could be included in a new iteration is a text uploader. This way you could analyze any text that you want. Currently the selection is a) written by Shakespeare, b) written by Stephen Crane, or c) related to slaves. Doing this would give users a far broader volume of text, but also would allow someone to take a text and easily use a tool like Tapor to extract pieces of text, for a more versatile analysis. For example, Dr. Ullyot wanted us to try and find a way to analyse Hamlet 3.4, but lacking any function to do so, our group was incapable of analysing any one portion of Hamlet. If we could upload an xml, text, or html file to be read, we could then upload just 3.4 and analyse the document. With this theoretical addition, one could also upload just one speech, or the lines of one character, or a section that the user has found that is written in a certain meter. Any of these and just about any other selection of text would help a user find more specific, varying, and interesting results.
Another function that could be included would be to report bugs in the software searching for relations, because these do, occaisonally, pop up. This would help the creator of the software to better understand and develop the tool to become more accurate over time. These things happen, it’s easier to report a bug if you just press a button pertaining to one search result that turned up when it doesn’t apply. This would help the creator of the software to help the users of the software to have more varied and more appropriate search results and making his or her experience simpler and more effective.
The last addition I think could be added is the possibility of private and public functions which would apply to such current functions as tags, annotations, and collections. Things not already included that could have both private and public attributes could be saved search results, documents that the user uploaded (as per earlier in this same blog) or even forums or chat. This would enable collaborative work through a) the entirety of the digital Humanities field b) a small group of students or researchers working on a research paper or project or c) just the one user. It would enable the users in the neccessary groups to have access to everything they need or want and eliminate the unneccessary annotations and documents.
Now, I realize that this is largely the criticisms, of a computer-science student, but it is also the opinion of a Wordseer user and English student. I think Wordseer has potential as a fun and intensely useful tool that could help students come up with theses for their papers, but right now it is limited to, well, let’s be honest, no one’s going to search the relationships between words in works about slaves, and not too many digital humanists will be interested in Stephen Crane’s works; right now it’s limited to Shakespeare and limited within it by subdividing walls at that.