The box you see at the top of the right sidebar, which is labeled Popular Tags, contains what is called a tag cloud. All the SMM blogs are now displaying such a tag cloud since, as explained elsewhere, Tags Attract Eyes.
Tag clouds are not a new innovation. In 2005, Pete Freitag gave complete and somewhat complex instructions on How To Make a Tag Cloud. His website still shows a fine example of the tag cloud created by his approach.
Not everyone was so enamored by tag clouds. Jeffrey Zeldman expressed the view that Tag clouds are the new mullets. He suggested that every one was leaping onto the bandwagon of this fascinating new technology.
Before we go further it is very important to make a clear distinction between tag clouds, which provide hyperlinks to individual posts or articles, and what might better be called Word Clouds.
Some Tag Clouds Are Only Word Clouds
Some software will take a body of text and display common terms in the text by grouping like terms together and visually emphasizing the more frequent terms. These might best be called Word Clouds. Interesting examples of this are TagCrowd and the Tag Cloud Demo created by OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, Inc.).
To repeat, although the same term is used for these, these are not tag clouds, as we are using the term. They should more precisely be called word clouds.
That is not to say that what they do is not of interest. Indeed Noah Brier uses the same concept in picturing how visitors to his website, Brand Tags, perceive some common brands. As he suggests, the basic idea of the site is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads. Therefore, whatever it is they say a brand is, is what it is. He uses word clouds to display and summarize these perceptions.
Tag Clouds That Get You There
Word clouds are of some interest, but tag clouds that include hyperlinks to other webpages clearly are much more valuable and useful. Although these tags could be determined by computer analysis, they are likely to be much more relevant if they are assigned by the author of the web page. They are now very easily handled and displayed for blogs that are using the latest version of WordPress version 2.5. A tag cloud such as that displayed in the right sidebar is easily created using the information in Template Tags/wp_tag_cloud.
The use of tag clouds is becoming more valuable as the Internet becomes increasingly crowded and search engines sometimes produce only low relevance items. Perhaps this is why Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Internet, has received a $350,000 grant from the James S and James L. Knight Foundation to work on “source tagging”. He and Martin Moore are working with Reuters and the BBC to figure out how to incorporate this process into routine journalistic workflow.
We can only hope that “source tagging” helps you find the original items. Perhaps it hardly needs to be said given the riches that Sir Tim has given us already.
A Marketer’s Guide to Social Bookmarking & Tagging
Posted by Lisa Barone
Live blogging from SMX Social Media Marketing, April 2008, Long Beach CA