Word clouds are showing up everywhere, and understandably so. They provide interesting, meaningful, and sometimes even insightful representations of written works. Furthermore, they’re freely generated by easily-accessible computers. The only barrier to overcome is collecting the written work of interest in a format that the computer can consume.
The basics of generating word clouds are always the same: process a given collection of writing, find the most frequently occurring words, and scale each word based on its frequency. Depending on the type of content, a few other tweaks may be appropriate. Typically, the resulting words are then organized into some type of aesthetically pleasing arrangement.
Being rather interested in the case of the Zodiac, I recently found myself asking a predictable question: what kind of word cloud would we get from the collection of the killer’s letters? To satisfy my curiosity, I took all of the killer’s canonical Bay Area letters and fed them into the most popular word-cloud generator on the web: wordle.net.
To avoid unrepresentative repetition, I only included one copy of the Zodiac’s initial three, essentially-the-same, letters. In particular, I used the San Francisco Chronicle letter since it was the only one to have the phrase: “In this cipher is my identity.” I also tweaked some of the options based on what I felt seemed best.
The following is what wordle generated. I’m not sure if anyone will be able to glean real insight from this word cloud. But, it’s interesting nonetheless.