On the very surface of Cynthia and Richard Selfe’s article, “What are the Boundaries, Artifacts, and Identities of Technical Communication,” rests the reoccurring notion paralleled across many articles pertaining the field of Technical Communications, that being it is an arbitrary and indefinable area of study. Within this capricious field, entail a fluctuating series of needed employment skills, such as document design, task analysis, visual communication, and usability of products. Acknowledging such specific abilities allows for engagement in information manipulation and aids teachers form curricula. Similar to the functionality of a text cloud, the Technical Communication field attempts to generalize an immense spectrum of functions. With this comparison of systems Selfe is able to move into the subject of text clouds, using a college student, Amanda Bemer, to depict the struggles with technical communication identity. Selfe gives purpose to system maps, encompassing text clouds, in that they must “highlight certain things and not others, depending on the interest and goals of the mapmakers (20).
After introducing text clouds as the article’s main theme, Selfe acquaints readers to its basic necessities and characteristics. Initially indicated is the rule that a “good map had to serve a multitude of audiences, such as students, scholars, practitioners, non specialists, and members of the public” (20). Further dissecting the concept, Selfe familiarizes us with three primary approaches of mapping: history, research, and skills, and a fourth approach using text clouds. Each approach traces how and why particular genres originated; the reason being “any map of such large and diverse field is bound to be inherently biased” (21). Selfe here leaves the resonating notion that meanings are simultaneously excluded and represented in systems such as visual mapping. Reacting to such exclusions, a website I typically use to find new music, called Music Map, came to mind.
Depicting a visual map itself, this website requires the visitor to type in the band to which they wish to find similar sounding tunes. Once this is done, the site finds information about the indicated artist, such as genre, instruments used, sound, time period produced, etc. and provides a collection of analogous music. This extremely tedious process of data mining is kept unseen by the website user, dealing with complex ideas and numerous data in a systematic approach. The format of this conglomeration is a map, utilized to present information in efficient ways that readers can capture through brief visual explorations. This specific form of map is the most basic, for it is formulated in words, instead of the more complex book chapters, journal articles, and magazine features. Music Map uses tags, which “describe pieces of information contained in extensive websites, blogs, and databases” (27). These tags escalate the activity of pulling visual attributes, such as size, weight, and color, in order to better organize a map and represent features.
What is striking about Music Map’s textual cloud is that instead of using color or size differentiation to designate meaning, the site relies plainly on distance to the specifically sought out band. Most likely taken in account when making this outline decision was the optimal size for the map. Especially on a bounded web page, their must be a size accommodation for the particular rhetorical purpose, in this case referring new music to browsers. A complex, interlocking cloud, the Music Map shows relationships between the band searched and the results, as well as the connections between each resulted band. The bands surrounding said searched band lie in clumps of focused similarities, and in terms of utility. In this instance, like all text clouds, certain criteria will inevitably be left out, because their is a confined space allotted. By eliminating color, size, and other textual distinctions and focusing strictly on space orientation between subjects, Music Map gives their audience the most intrinsic view possible.
In his article, Self focuses on text clouds as a way of mapping technical communication and describing the boundaries, artifacts, and identities that constitute the field. These textual maps extend over the broad plane of technical communications, on both print and digital spheres. Whether viewing an webpage, or flipping through the chapters of a book, readers are witnessing the hidden inner-workings of mapping.