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Visualizing Wilde: Online Collaborative Tools

Visualizing Wilde: Online Collaborative Tools

Oscar WildeThis week, my general education literature class will be starting Oscar Wilde. He’s the only writer that we’ll be reading in breadth, as we’ll be doing five different texts: two of his early fairytales (“The Happy Prince” and “The Nightingale and the Rose”), The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” (I know, I’m neglecting his nonfiction—but we may look at some in class.)

Given that the intention here is to make connections, comparisons, and think about Wilde’s oeuvre as a whole, I thought it would be an excellent moment for some data visualization: what recurring themes and connections do we see in his work? Does it change over time? Can we relate “The Happy Prince” directly to Dorian Gray? How? Themes like self-sacrifice vs. selfishness, love and death, and outer vs. inner beauty come up often enough that it seems like a visual tool would be lovely in helping to create, explore, and maintain the web of ideas that make up Wilde’s work.

I admit that I did spend some time thinking about drawing Venn diagrams or various types of charts on the overhead document camera (or perhaps on some posterboard that I could bring to each class period…) The problem, as I see it, is that too often digital tools seem to require too much setup, too much tweaking of data, and aren’t flexible enough to accomplish something like color coding for different texts (which would, manually, require nothing but different colors of markers). Time spent fussing over data seems like time that could be better spent thinking about the text. (And hey, I could always photograph the board and post it online when we were done!)

But, fortunately, the temptation of collaborative tools, and the sense of absurdity of being a posterboard-carrying HASTAC scholar won out. The challenge I gave myself: starting with nothing but a deep familiarity with these stories, and not knowing of any tool in particular that could accomplish what I wanted, could I set up an online collaborative tool in an hour or less?

Answer: I needed less than half an hour. Whoa! This was a nice surprise. After searching for something like “free online data connection visualization” (don’t I sound like an expert?) I found Many Eyes, visualization software from IBM. It included a type of data visualization titled “Networks Diagram.” It looked about right, you could upload your own data, and it was free.

It couldn’t be easier: you cut-and-paste in a chunk of data and Many Eyes asks what sort of chart you want. It was easier and less fiddly than I remember Excel charts being. After a bit of experimenting, I created this spreadsheet in Google docs, which I made public to users with the link:

(Don’t examine the content too closely--I quickly added a series of somewhat questionable categories because I wanted to see as many as possible. As we progress through the rest of our Wilde texts, my class can trim them down to more focused and less silly themes). Here is the result:


We’re doing the fairy tales in class today; on Wednesday, we start Earnest. I can post the link to the spreadsheet on the class’s Iowa webpage and ask students to add a couple of categories before class; during class, we can create the visualization as a starting-point for discussion.

It’s not perfect: you have to create a new visualization every time you change the data, and Many Eyes requires registration, so it’s not easy for students to play around with. (The Google doc is easy to collaborate on, at least. Google docs does have a series of gadgets built-in, but unfortunately, after poking around for a bit, I couldn’t find anything that provides this sort of visualization.) I’m also concerned how many data point the chart can handle as we move through five texts with 20 contributors, and I wish that we could color-code each text to make it easier to look at (at the moment, you can highlight each text by hovering over it). But for a 20-minute setup, it was easier than I had hoped for. I’ll update after we’re done with Wilde, but for the moment, I’m labeling this as a tentative setup success.

(Any tips on similar software, HASTAC community?)

Edit: Follow-up post here!



To be honest i have just recently started using a program Called Prezi.

It comes across as a replacement program for powerpoint and is entirely more entertaining and engaging as far as presentations go. The tools and templates that come with it (including the free version) seem ideal for just about any visual stimulus or diagrams. I suggest playing around with it and seeing what you'll come up with. the program is very user-friendly and comes with and entire menu of tutorials if necessary.

good luck, love to see what you come up with,



This is exactly the sort of tip I'm interested in! It looks great--I'll look forward to playing with it. Thanks!


I've been using Prezi, but it is anything but a collaboration platform, more a presentation tool, and unfortunately has some significant web accessibility concerns that have been reported for years and not addressed. Some of these impact on people who normally would not consider themselves as requiring accessibility accommodations.

Now, Many Eyes is a wonderful wonderful suite of data visualization tools! I can't say enough good things about it, with the one major proviso that your data set unfortunately has to be public. One thing I've seen done by educators with Many Eyes is having students create the dataset from their own analysis or studies, then pooling the data for a class analysis, or a visualization competition. If you have complete fulltext of a work, you could create a group in ManyEyes, and have a class competition for best visualization of the text to perform X task or clarify Y issue, or something along those lines. 

If you are looking for tools that allow collaboration and conceptual organization, you might want to try MindMeister or PearlTrees. The first is a mindmapping tool that works very nicely in a collaborative environment. I've used it with up to four people simultaneously editing in real time. Very nice. You can also open a map to the world for collaborative editing. Pearltrees is more of the curation tool, but allowing selected links to be organized in a mind-map kind of conceptual structure. Think of it as building a visually structured bibiliography of online resources. 


Thanks so much for all of these resources! I hadn't considered exploring a fulltext via Many Eyes (although I've done it with Wordle, which seems to be one of their visualization option)... what a wealth of possibility!

...maybe I can outsource this exploration via an assignment for my students. :)

Thank you for the tips on Mindmeister and PearlTrees, too. I have them bookmarked and will look forward to exploring further over spring break and as I develop a syllabus for next semester!

I'd love to see a popular history of these sorts of personal mappings--I love Victorian scrapbooks; a comparison between those, Pearltrees, Pinterest, and other maps could be so interesting...


I was not aware of any of the issues mentioned but I will look into them, and prezi is not a collaboratory I know, yet it is still a useful presentation and diagram tool. i look forward to trying out mindmeister and possibly using it soon.


Hi, Shawn, sorry if I came down a little hard on the Prezi issue. I most definitely agree that it can be very useful and engaging! I use it myself from time to time. There are best practices that avoid the issue of it causing dizziness and nausea in susceptible folk, and there are also ways to create equivalent content in accessible formats for audiences that need accommodations. The accommodations can be a fair amount of extra work, but it IS doable, so I will judiciously go ahead with making a Prezi when either the audience is very limited or I am prepared to go the extra mile to make equivalent accessible forms of the content. It can be an awful lot of fun to use, and sometimes it is just worth it. Glad you brought it up! 


Prezi is a collaborative tool:  you may "Edit together."  My students have successfully collaborated (remotely or side by side at the computer lab) using a Prezi.


Katherine, I love the idea of a posterboard-toting HASTAC Scholar! We just did a great collaboration workshop at Duke, and the first thing we started with was an exercise on.... index cards! Yes, the paper ones! And we heard all about lots of 'tools' and 'technologies' that folks use in classrooms, many of which were based on paper or other kinds of materials. 

But thanks for the explanation of Many Eyes - it sounds like an interesting tool, and one that is reasonably user friendly. In particular, I love your idea of using it as a jumping off point in class. This idea shows that even folks who are resistant to using text mining software can use it as the start of a conversation, not the end. It reminds us that the tools are the support to a larger conversation, not the point of the analysis.

Keep us posted on how it goes!


We're definitely progressing on things--our map has 120 points to it now! I'll do a follow-up post on it as soon as we get a little deeper into Dorian Gray.

And actually, thanks for the note about index cards! It's true--I think paper-based tech is perhaps a bit underappreciated nowadays, and it doesn't always have to be about being a Luddite, or slow to adopt, or too lazy, etc. Ooh, perhaps this is fodder for a new post! :) Where paper works better, where they can be combined, and where it's time to move on.... apart from the e-book debate.


Looks like you're doing some really interesting things in your class using visual aids! I know you put out a call for collaborative tools, but I thought you might be interested in this tool just as something different:

What you do is pick several topics that would have a wikipedia page, and it automatically shows how all your chosen topics map back to the philosophy page. You may have heard the idea that if you click the first linked term (minus footnotes and parantheticals) of any wikipedia page, you'll eventually work back to the philosophy page. This tool just visualizes it for you. Pretty cool, right?


I hadn't heard of Xefer--it looks a bit like "six clicks to Jesus," except... six clicks to philosophy? :)

I just tried it out with "Oscar Wilde," "Gender Studies," "Walter Pater," and "Michelangelo." It couldn't find "Walter Pater" (even though that's the title of the article?) I don't know, the whole resulting chart made me dubious! It linked everything back to "knowledge" (and from there back to "philosophy") via a serious of highly general categories--which seems sort of cheap, like linking everything back to Kevin Bacon via an appearence at the Oscars. Hm. It is making me think about the limitations of this sort of tech, though! Unless I did something wrong / am missing something?