Bright Ideas: Alaska Wilderness League's I am Word Cloud

Why do you love the wilderness? This month's Bright Idea comes from the Alaska Wilderness League, which has been asking that very question. In a project entitled “I am,” the League has been collecting stories about why people love Alaska's wild places, posting them to its website, and creating a “word cloud” to highlight the words that were used the most in the narratives. This project has been a great way for Alaska Wilderness League to motivate activists to use their personal messages to promote wilderness protection. It also created a great web feature illustrating what's important to people about these special places in Alaska.

All beginning with the phrase “I am,” stories were submitted by League members from across the country and range from a couple of sentences to five or six paragraphs. The website encourages all readers to submit their thoughts, “whether you're a teacher, a student, a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom, a plumber, a retiree, a bookkeeper, a writer, a politician – heck, it doesn't matter who you are, what you do, or where you're from.” All types of people have responded so far, including a former Merchant Marine officer, a business school professor, an architecture student, a single father of two, a retired Episcopal clergyman and a couple of lifelong Alaskans. The resulting stories have all “alluded to a grand reverence for the timelessness of nature's creation and the need for its preservation,” according to the project introduction on the Alaska Wilderness League website. “This project really taught us a lot about why people from many different walks of life believe so passionately in protecting Alaska's wild places,” said Emilie Surrusco, Communications Director for Alaska Wilderness League. “We heard from people who will never see Alaska for themselves and people who have lived there their whole lives. For all of them, Alaska represents something individual and special.”

Using the growing collection of inspiring pieces, the League created a word cloud for its website to show the most frequently used words and themes. Understanding a word cloud is simple: the bigger the word is depicted, the more times it was used in the stories. “Building the word cloud showed us how much our members have in common when it comes to wild Alaska,” Surrusco said. Apart from a quick way to visualize what the stories focused on, the word cloud is a great image for the website, emphasizing powerful words like beauty, Earth, future and protect, all placed around the word “Alaska.”

With free online programs such as Wordle and Word It Out, anyone can make a word cloud to put on a website simply by copying and pasting text or a web address into these programs. You can then customize color, size, font and shape to design your cloud just the way you want.

Alaska Wilderness League has combined individual narratives into a grand message about the timelessness and importance of Alaska's wild places to people everywhere. This Bright Idea is simple, free and has the potential to produce a powerful message to help promote wilderness protection and add to your website.