Tag Cloudy

by on October 16, 2006

I’ve become a bit of a tag cloud hawk recently, looking for examples of their use and what I think is abuse, or just plain old misunderstanding.

My definition of a useful tag cloud is something that allows you to get a feel for the “mood” of the information tagged on a site. On the web, it’s traditionally been hard to communicate this in any other way apart from using numbers (for example with faceted navigation) or worse, plain old lists.

So I quite like this application on Movietally (a site set up by a 14-year old, apparently – that’s pretty Web 2.0 if you ask me…). If I’ve never heard of the film, I can get a good feel for what to expect from it in about 0.5 seconds. Great for people like me with a gnat-like attention span. Compare the summary with the cloud – which would you choose?

But other times it’s just, well, wrong. Like Yahoo! Tech‘s home page. What the hell is that tag cloud doing? Slap bang in prime screen position too. Yahoo! Tech is basically an ecommerce site with reviews. The help text tells you “The more popular a product type is, the larger its word.” So, I’m looking to buy a monitor – what does the tag cloud tell me? That I should in fact want a laptop? It maketh no sense. The fact that they feel the need to have to explain the tag cloud is also an indication that they have not much of a clue about the context of their own site.

But then I’ve always thought Yahoo! were muppets – easy targets. Here’s a new example from a hitherto unknown (to me) outfit: Collectivex.com. Have a look at that cloud. Looks nice, doesn’t it? Go ahead, click on something.

Gotcha! It’s fake. Still, have to admire them for effort – lets hope for their sake their VCs don’t click through too!

Comments

John

Have a look at chinwag jobs. http://www.chinwagjobs.com. This uses a tag cloud and in some ways is an example of what you dislike about the Yahoo Tech cloud in that if you live in Berkshire, why would you be interested in jobs in Sussex? But in this instance I can instantly get a picture of how many jobs are local to me and that is useful. The tabbed swap between the list and the cloud is also helpful and demonstrates that both have power in the right context.

Chas

Perhaps I should define “tag cloud” as a list of tags where the relative visual size of each tag represents how many items of content have that tag. Chinwag doesn’t use tag clouds (at least not that I can see, please clarify if they do). It uses simple tag lists.

My objection to the Yahoo! Tech use of the tag cloud is not a question of Berkshire vs Sussex as in your example. Maybe I didn’t explain myself properly.

On a side note, Chinwag seem to going overboard on the tagging in my opinion – for something like jobs, you shouldn’t just delegate advanced search to a bunch of tags. How do I get all Flash developer jobs in Surrey, for example?

Hey… noticed you mentioned the CollectiveX tag cloud in your post above. It’s not fake at all… each link redirects to a case study on the cases page. You may want to try it again… not sure how you missed it the first time. While you’re there, give the service a try as well — It’s free.

Thanks

Thanks Clarence.

I know there isn’t exactly a formal definition of what a “tag cloud” should be, but in my opinion, it’s not just a bunch of links. I realise the links on the CollectiveX tag cloud lead somewhere – but my point is that if it was a proper tag cloud it would allow the user to see an evolving “zeitgeist” – visual metadata if you like – about the content overall. It currently does no such thing. The relative sizes of the words are simply faked by you to draw the user’s eye to certain words.

As a marketing mini-gimmick, it’s fine. But it’s not a tag cloud.

I can’t believe I’m having conversations about what makes a proper tag cloud. Must be something more important I can be doing…

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