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Is that a bar chart or a histogram? I think of a histogram as approximating a continuous density - it doesn't display the raw data, eg. as the bin width and offset can substantially change the image


Indeed histograms are usually plotted for continuous variables, then you get into bin widths and kernels and so on.

This is like a histogram for categorical variables. If I remove the white space between the bars, and turn the chart 90 degrees, it would look like a histogram.

Bin width is also a relevant concept here if we modify the interpretation a bit. A key issue (which I avoided bringing up in the post) is that of relevance; in all likelihood, we have a long-tailed distribution so that the most popular keywords are thousands of times more frequent than the rare keywords but there would be thousands of rare keywords. The decision then is how many categories should be combined into one bar so that there is optimal smoothing.

I'll have to do a separate post on this with some histograms to make this clear.


There is another distinction, being that there is no canonical ordering in the categorical case. Histograms are not ordered by frequency. I'd argue that histograms are a special case of barcharts, and it's confusing to call the plots above histograms.

I also wonder if the numbers in the frequency table underlying the flickr tag cloud aren't transformed in some way to avoid very popular tags overwhelming the display.


You certainly have a point here. I was back and forth about it myself; you might have noticed that histogram was not mentioned in the main text. That's why.

And they may well have log-transformed the frequencies. It'd make sense.

In fact, there is only a limited number of font sizes and so they must have bucketed the frequencies, which means that the relative font size would have little to do with relative frequency!

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