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First Look: Textal, A Free SmartPhone App for Text Analysis

textalIf you’ve ever wanted to do sophisticated text analysis on your smartphone, you’re in luck. A team from University College London Center for the Digital Humanities, made up of Melissa Terras (@melissaterras), Steven Gray (@frogo) and Rudolf Amman (@rkammann), has just released Textal, a free smartphone app currently available only on iOS that allows you to analyze websites, tweet streams and documents, spitting out an intuitive word cloud from your search from which you can see word frequency and collocates (words that often appear next to your selected words) at the tap of a finger.

Textal has a clean, user-friendly interface. When you first launch the app, you’re greeted with a slick tutorial:

Step 1: Create a Textal

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Step 2: Touch a Word in the Word Cloud

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Step 3: See the Stats for the Selected Word

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Step 4: Share Your Textal!

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I created two Textals the first time I used the app. One of the occurrences of the term “postcolonial” on Twitter, and the other a general wordcloud of one of the Week 2 forum threads for the Postcolonial Digital Humanities Summer School, which was then discussing Tara McPherson’s (@tmcphers) essay, “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White?” Both of the textals I created are below:

postcolonial textal

dhpocoss textal

Some of the words that were generated showed patterns that I hadn’t considered before, which was helpful to think through. For example, the term “comics” showed up six times in the 3733 words that my Twitter search generated for “postcolonial,” indicating that some people on Twitter who are discussing postcolonial studies are also considering the implication of comics—something which is still relatively neglected within the field of postcolonial studies. I could look up the tweets which mentioned ”postcolonial” and ”comics” together, allowing me to locate people with this research interest. The ease with which I was able to generate such a wordcloud thus allowed me to consider connections I might have otherwise ignored, and connect with likeminded researchers.

I really enjoyed going through analyses of individual terms. For example, when I clicked on the term “unix” in the Summer School Week 2 forum thread, I was quickly able to see collocations, or words which the word was usually found next to:

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I was also able to quickly view “common pairs,” or words that were generally paired with the word I’d selected in the wordcloud:

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Unfortunately, the web interface doesn’t allow you to interact with your Textals in those ways, limiting you to a static word cloud. Along with that, there are some other features that I wish were available: a web version of the program, and the ability to sync between the web and the mobile version.

Overall, Textal is a great new app for people interested in data and text analysis. Its ease of use and intuitive interface make it fun to use, and I can imagine it will be useful for introductory digital humanities classes. For example, an instructor might use the app to analyze a class’s blog posts, and ask students to consider some some connections generated by the app which they might not have otherwise noticed. I look forward to seeing how it develops in its next iterations.

What Text Analysis Apps Do You Use? Have You Used Textal? Let Us Know in the Comments Below.

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