Oh, the convenience of online dictionaries — gone are the days when I have to expend time and energy walking over to the bookshelf, dragging a heavy tome back to the desk and sifting through the pages. Now I can even explore related words and their meanings in a completely different, visual and interactive way with two online dictionaries: Visuwords and Lexipedia.
Based on WordNet, an open-source database of English developed by lexicographers at Princeton University, Visuwords displays search terms and all associated words in a kind of web or tree. Words or phrases are color-coded and connected by a variety of lines and arrows. A legend on the right side helps you decode the relationships between words and make sense of the web. So not only is Visuwords a dictionary, it's a thesaurus as well.
The interface is clean, visually appealing and fairly intuitive. Hovering your mouse over the word or phrase will bring up the definition. You can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. Click and drag on the background to move the entire web around or on individual terms to move them around. You can also double-click on any word to see its associated terms and add to the word web.
Like Visuwords, Lexipedia serves as both a dictionary and thesaurus. Although not as pretty and colorful as Visuwords' scalable web of bubbles and arrows, Lexipedia's interface is clean, functional and easy to navigate.
Words and phrases are presented as both a visual word web and as text-based lists organized under parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, synonyms, fuzzynyms, etc.). You can choose to have, for example, only adjectives displayed by clicking on the legend.
Definitions include an example of the word/phrase used in a sentence. Plus, each definition contains an audio file that gives the proper pronunciation of the term.
Visuwords seems cooler and more appealing in terms of visual design, but may be slow to load at times — at least it was during a couple of my visits to the site. Visuwords also relies on colors and symbols to show relationships between words, so unless you've got the time to memorize the legend, it may take a bit longer to figure things out.
As for handiness, I think I prefer the quick accessibility and ease of use of Lexipedia, with its organization into parts of speech. I also enjoyed playing around on Visuwords with all them pretty colors. Check them both out and decide for yourself.