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BUTTER: Free Text Analysis Software for Social Scientists


What does “BUTTER” stand for?

BUTTER stands for Basic Unit-Transposable Text Experimentation Resource.

Who made BUTTER?

BUTTER is developed by Ryan Boyd (that’s me!). The software has been in various stages of development since February, 2019, and most updates happen on an as-needed basis, or whenever I find some free time. This software “stands on the shoulders of giants” — while I have written the overwhelming majority of the codebase from scratch, there are several methods, ideas, and plugins that are either directly inspired by other people’s research or, in some cases, directly integrates open source code that others have written.

If you encounter any issues with the software, or if you would like to make a request, please send me an e-mail!

Does BUTTER cost anything?

BUTTER is complete free to use. I do not charge money for my software, as I am a firm believer that cost should be no barrier to entry when it comes to doing good research. If you would like to show your appreciation for the software, and if you have a little bit of money to spare, please consider giving a bit of money to a charity that you believe in.

Where does BUTTER come from?

From cows, silly.

Okay, okay, for real this time. Over the past decade, I’ve written a lot of GUI-based applications that do very specific text analysis tasks. My personal view was that making and sharing these applications would make certain types of text analysis methods accessible to a broader audience — people that wanted to do text analysis, but who didn’t have a lot of experience with writing software. Over the years, I’ve received countless e-mails from people thanking me for opening doors that they thought would remain closed to them due to a lack of resources, time, and really specific “know-how”. This has been very encouraging, and it has been rewarding to know that these programs have helped other people.

Eventually, I grew dissatisfied with a lot of my own software. Whenever I added a feature to one program (for example, reading text from CSV files), I simply didn’t have the time to add the same feature to all of my other programs. Additionally, I became increasingly unhappy with the fact that people had to learn how to use several different programs if they wanted to be able to use different methods. The number of scattered programs and features that I had out there was starting to undermine my primary goals of making text analysis available to (and easy for) everyone.

Eventually, I decided to integrate all of my scattered programs into a single workflow: BUTTER. Partially inspired by the “KnowledgeFlow” feature of Weka, I set out to build a system where users could — with a little bit of practice — use a text analysis system that consists of simply “connecting the dots”, so to speak. Like KnowledgeFlow, the idea is not to have a program that does everything for you — you still need to have an idea of what you want to accomplish. So long as you know what you want to do, you can let BUTTER worry about how to do it. You can then take the results that you get from BUTTER and go from there: run statistical analyses, export your prepared texts to other frameworks, and so on.