A new visual thesaurus app for the Apple iPad promises to inspire students to discover and explore words, in an inexpensive or free app. In a twist, the app developers have turned to crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise funds to build the app, and then release it for schools, parents, or anyone else to download for free or 99 cents.
The app will display a spider web of words, with each word branching out to synonyms, antonyms, and related words. Here’s a mockup of the app:
The layout is similar to a mind map. It uses the SpicyNodes layout engine, which the team from IDEA.org developed, and which won the won the 2011 “Best Website for Teaching and Learning” award from American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The definitions, etymologies and synonyms will come from Wordnik. The team previously created an iPad app for browsing Wikipedia articles called WikiNodes.
“The current incentives for publishers don’t support cheap, quality educational apps,” said Michael Douma, leader of the new thesaurus project. “Moreover, charging for apps is a huge obstacle if you want a broad reach. Free apps are downloaded 10- to 100-times as often as paid apps, and many educators don’t have spare budget to spend on apps. We want to fill that gap.”
The app developers are experimenting with Kickstarter for the first time. Kickstarter is a funding site for creative projects, and uses an all-or-nothing approach, so Douma and his team will only receive funding if enough people pledge to reach their goal of $7500 by their deadline of April 13.
The Kickstarter project can be found here, and the team will be chronicling their experience developing and promoting the idea on their blog. In addition to supporting the aims of the project, backers will various rewards and mementos, such as postcards, coffee mugs, etc.
Another cool feature of the app, sure to help anyone having trouble finding a word on the tip if their tongue, will be word blends. In the mockup below, the word “ugly” on the left blends through multiple word paths to “beautiful” on the right. This kind of blend illustrates to students how words have multiple, slightly different definitions, and can also help students find the right word for their writing assignments.
“We hope enough word lovers, and people interested in public literacy will back the project to make it a reality,” says Douma. “For the word geeks, one of our rewards is an ‘easter egg’ wherein we slip in an extra definition for any word, which is activated if the user enters a secret code.”
It will be interesting to see what happens with their funding, as it’s an intriguing business model flip, to use community funding before app development rather than rely on high app prices.