Embedded Text Analysis

  1. 1. Brian L. Pytlik-Zillig

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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John Unsworth, in writing about the rhetorical model
in the humanities, asserts that “we believe that by paying
attention to an object of interest, we can explore it,
find new dimensions within it, notice things about it that
have never been noticed before, and increase its value.”
[1] One way that digital humanists pay attention to texts
is to assemble them into groups and analyze them. In
the last few years, the digital humanities have increasingly
benefited from the ability to perform analytical operations
on individual texts and, less frequently, on text
corpora. Efforts such as TaPOR, HyperPo, Nora Project,
WordHoard, TokenX, and others have made it possible,
with varying degrees of success, to process texts and output
a wide assortment of data about them. The MONK
Project has worked to combine full-text archives so that
the once-exclusively offline activity of performing sophisticated
algorithmic analyses on large text corpora
can be performed, in a web browser, for large sets of
Outside of the digital humanities realm, some commercial
sites are beginning to offer access to limited text
data. In 2006, the New York Times, using technology
developed by Answers.com, quietly implemented the JavaScript
“double-click dictionary” feature, where users
could double-click any word in an online article and a
new window would pop up with dictionary and thesaurus
information [2]. While this may not serve as a traditional
example of text analysis per se, it moves closer to
new dimensions of noticing.
These efforts, both within digital humanities and without,
have gone a long way toward making text analysis
techniques accessible to a somewhat wider audience.
But, as the maintainers of most of these projects would
probably acknowledge, this task is made more difficult
by the complexities associated with, and diversity of, the
analytical techniques desired. Developers in this area
have traditionally employed a specialized vocabulary,
designed interfaces that are anything but general, and
placed a high premium on information density in their
representations. This ideal is not always in accord with
the design of an interface intended for reading a text.
In fact, there are significant problems associated with
presenting text analysis to users. In one example, the interface
I developed for TokenX suffers from the same
shortcomings that many web-based text analysis applications
have: (1) it is insufficiently intuitive, (2) users
have to read the menu/link options because there is no
universally acknowledged visual language of text analysis,
(3) there are often too many steps involved in getting
from where you are to where you wish to be, and (4) the
user must summon a new page, or parts thereof, to see
the results of a given text analysis operation. [3]
There is a clear need for nearby points of entry to text analytical
results—ones that are conveniently embedded in
the document the user is reading. I use the term “nearby”
in contrast to “convenient” to emphasize the collocation
of texts and textual data. It is not sufficient that data be
a few clicks and scrolls away from where you are when
you are reading. The data must be where you can see it
at the point you decide you want it. An example of such
a point of entry that is sufficiently proximal might be the
browser tooltip. A conventional use of a tooltip involves
an information-bearing mouseover effect that appears on
request and disappears when the mouse moves away. To
a similar end, I propose the creation of a text analysis
interface that may seem radical. Such an interface would
require no configuration, avoid rarefied terms and procedures,
and stand in an immediate relationship to the reading
field of the text under investigation. It would be located
where the user is reading at a given moment. From
the perspective of the user, the analysis would be located
in the document, or corpus, itself. No longer would it be
necessary to travel to a different online site to generate
text data about either the text that the user is reading or
the corpus it occupies.
Embedded text analysis would, for the sake of broad
interoperability and access, function in a wide variety
of modern browsers and would afford users access to
quantitative data about individual documents and, where
appropriate, the corpus of texts related to the present
document. Unlike other text analysis tools, an embedded
text analysis interface will not sever the connection between
the reading text and the data, but will foreground
it. For reasons presumably similar to those underlying
the embedding of the electric washing machine into the
average home in the 20th century, embedded text analysis
will emphasize the convenience of the user. From the
perspective of the user, embedded text analysis features
should seem clear and obvious.
Technical challenges abound, ranging from how best to
embed complex data results in ways that are easily understood
and do not interfere with reading to identifying
in advance the analytical procedures that a user might
want to invoke. Such procedures would probably include
lemma information, part of speech, word n-grams, character n-grams, lemma n-grams, word and character
counts, keyword and n-gram in context visualizations,
word distribution, term frequency–inverse document
frequency (TF-IDF) data, sentence lengths, and more.
An approach to data visualization using embedded text
analysis techniques is innovative, both in terms of development
and deployment, and anticipates future needs for
emerging methods of looking at large sets of text data.
As more humanities content is digitized and made available—
the entire Text Creation Partnership collection of
texts will be freely available in 2015—there will be more
demand for tools to perform increasingly sophisticated
analyses. The historic manner of representing text data
as a static graphic element, rooted in print publishing and
its once-necessary reliance upon static representations of
data, will yield to a growing need for dynamic user-directed
visualizations embedded precisely where they are
needed: inside the reading field itself.
1. Unsworth, J. (2006) “Digital Humanities Beyond
Representation,” University of Central
Florida, Orlando, FL November 13, 2006.
2. Answers Corporation (2006) “NYTimes.com
Integrates Answers.com Reference Content.”
3. TokenX was designed, at the University of Nebraska-
Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities,
to provide an easy-to-use web-based interface for text
analysis and visualization that supports both XML and
TEI texts.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None