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Does the typical internet audience understand tag clouds

Tag cloud usability



3:35 pm on Dec 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I want to get this forums views on whether a typical interent audience understands a tag cloud or not.

The kind of tag cloud I am talking about uses different font/colors to highlight the frequency (or attribute) of each tag. I am using it on one of my sites as an important UI element, but it seems that relying on a tag cloud to get teh message across is not really working and a lot of people on the interent don't really understand what a tag cloud is and the information that it denotes.

What do members on this forum think?


3:57 pm on Dec 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I think no.

Tag clouds are one of those odd "geekisms" that coagulate from staring at too many blog posts. They are a rather cute way to try to add some "organic" qualities to an inorganic medium. Just another way that people are trying to bring about The Singularity (HINT: If this is an example of progress towards The Singularity, don't hold your breath, Vernor).

Even as an experienced geek and blogwatcher, I find tag clouds to be completely worthless; but that's just me. YMMV.

I won't put tag clouds in any site I create, as no one can even begin to figure out that they are anything more than a waste of screen real estate.

However, I'm a cynic and a killjoy. I have a nasty habit of insisting that my sites work for their intended audience, and none of my intended audience would appreciate tag clouds. Just last night, someone sat down with me and showed me how a new site I did confuses them with the simple placement of a text entry.

I would think that if tag clouds served geeks so well, you would see them on /. [slashdot.org]


6:36 pm on Dec 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks much for your detailed reply.

I do agree with you that tag clouds are mostly useless on blogs, however I have a slightly different implementation of the same and I would be very grateful if you could spare a minute to check it out and give me feedback.

You can see the tag cloud working at the url <url removed>

You will need to scroll down a bit and look under the section titled "Product Highlights".

Thanks again for your time and comments.

[edited by: encyclo at 12:41 pm (utc) on Dec. 26, 2007]
[edit reason] no links to personal sites please [/edit]


7:23 pm on Dec 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

No. I'm not typical and I barely understand them. In my niches I'd have to say 99.8% of the visitors wouldn't understand them.


7:50 pm on Dec 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator incredibill is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I hate those stupid things, they make my eyes hurt trying to find things.


8:05 pm on Dec 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I see what you mean, but I wouldn't recommend it for a couple of reasons:

1) This is a commercial storefront; not a social networking site. You (as the store owner) want as much control as possible over your storefront. Even Amazon.com doesn't do things like this. They have enough problems with their reviews (which have basically become darn near worthless -they are being co-opted by sockpuppets).

2) Tag clouds are noisy and confusing to first-time users. They are meant to be used by repeat visitors. It's nice to have repeat visitors, but don't stake your business plan on it. Assume that you will get one visit, and one visit only, from every person on Earth. Make that one visit as intuitive and fast as possible.

I use a "click count" model when I evaluate pages. I score any link that requires thought as to whether or not it should be clicked as a "2 click link." Tag clouds are so confusing to most users that I would score them as "4 click" links (if I used them).

Just my $0.02.


2:11 pm on Dec 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Makes sense.

I have been trying this out for sometime but doesn't really get across to most of the users unless they are the techie ones.

Actually the site is not a storefront but kind of a review aggregation and analysis service. We have some pretty neat technology powering it but it is amazingly hard to simply things down for the general audience and still retain the insights that we want to get across.


9:13 am on Jan 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Tag clouds work extremely well from a serp point of vue but I'm slapping a huge disclaimer on that statement.

The reason for the disclaimer is that they need to be used properly.

Consider them a second form of navigation. Most sites have categories with links to each category in a navigation bar, here are some pointers on using categories with tag clouds.

#1 - do not repeat a category name as a tag.
#2 - ensure that you re-use the same tag names over and over, don't create variants of the same word, this is to keep related posts together.
#3 - do not shove the tag cloud to the bottom of a sidebar, it needs to be displayed prominently, above the content if possible, this is due to rankings.
#4 - If you're up to coding this, and you should be, place a tag cloud on each category page and ensure that it only pulls tags from that category.
#5 - Ensure that all of the tag names compliment the category name, that is, make sure they all belong as sub sets to that category.
#6 - Keep the number of tags small, else plan on writing a ton of content each day to keep them all fresh.
#7 - resist placing any article under a tag it is not strictly related to, likewise don't place the article under more than two or three tags - one is ideal though often two or three apply.

Those will get you started, search engines actually love having content categorized. Social media sites have paved the way to ensure tags are going nowhere now, wordpress has included them too.


9:54 am on Jan 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Typical internet user may not "understand" a tag cloud, but they can certainly click the big lettered link.

With piqued interest, seems one Mister Jim Flanagan was once sited as the source of the tag cloud for http referral data. [wiki.dlma.com ], yet cannot find any further references.

I'd guess that Mr Flanagan, has had some training is the field of data visualization as this is very much within the disciple to use color, size, and shape to represent complex data more intuitively.

Tag clouds will probably not go away anytime soon, but the developer should consider whether the representation is the best way to present the information. Most people understand a pie chart without problem.


2:48 pm on Jan 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I agree that its obvious to most users that the larger bold words are somehow more important to the site. I find it a useful bit of info when visiting a new site as it gives a quick overview of content.

My problem (and other users too Im sure) is knowing what is going to happen when I click that highlighted term, will it take me to a search? a link list? a bunch of ads?

So Id rate it as useful but still confusing due to the many ways in which it can be implemented.


2:08 am on Jan 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I don't know where others may have seen them first, but flickr was the first place I did. And it worked great there. Why? Because pictures tend to have difficulty getting words associated with them. It was a very cool way to search pictures. Not sure if they fit so well in other places.


11:14 pm on Feb 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think Clark might be right about them having value for picture sites, but most of the time I think no. Let your site navigation do the work, not a bunch of words for guessing. That is anti usability.


8:43 am on Feb 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I think the idea is much like the old efforts at 'visual news conglomerators' - trying to fit as much on the screen as possible. The keyword being, efficiency.

One could accomplish a cloud with merely different colors. The different sizes 'could' suggest importance, but could also be a workaround for the few who are color blind. One could alternate bold and normal text, but couldn't not always count on the browser showing them so differently at a particular zoom or resolution, or font.

It's a way to cram and entire sublist into a little box. And I think one could just as easily scroll a sublist. It could be done simply on the mousemove event, so that the scrolling is automatic.


8:58 am on Apr 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If you had a business reason to use a tag cloud... let's say denoting popularity of products, you'd do better off with something like what most e-commerce sites have: a simple ordered list of the most popular (bought or viewed) products.

It displays the same information as a tag cloud, in a neat and easily understandable manner, without the uselessness.


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