Tag-Clouds Tag-Clouds

21cif Logo: Tag... We are it!

Tag, tags, tagging are buzz words associated with Web 2.0, sometimes called the Read/Write Web. Web 2.0 applications like blogs, wikis, podcasts, shared bookmarking, collaborative applications, and free range social networks encourage users to be authors.  Web 2.0 applications make it easy to not only read digital information but to author, share and classify that information.   

One revolutionary aspect of easy access to digital authorship is the ability for a community of interest to tag information in a non-hierarchical manner. Tags, also known as folksonomies, are user designated keywords that describe the content in a way that makes sense to other users in social network environments. Users can add multiple tags to any community content they deem interesting and edit their own tags to adopt the tags generated by the group. By searching tags, users can quickly locate and communicate with like minded community members. This leads to a swarm of keyword language that can be dynamically collected, analyzed and displayed by the Web 2.0 application.

Tag activity is often displayed using a weighted list technique called a tag-cloud.  Tag-clouds graphically represent the most active tags currently found in the most popular content of a site. The tags are also hotlinks that trigger a search of the most current information on the site. Instead of crafting a query (or just thinking of good keywords) users click on a tag.  The more popular the tag, the larger and darker the word will appear within the cloud of tags.  This interactive display changes as the attention of the group jumps from topic to topic. Viewing a tag-cloud is like hovering over the community buzz.  Click a tag and you search for the most active blogs, wikis, discussion forums, news stories, photos, songs, videos or other content being created, shared and tagged by the community.


Tags deliver an intuitive and common sense description of content. They give power to users interested enough to read, create, and tag content.

A reader/writer in the Web 2.0 environment is encouraged to apply multiple tags to their own content, along with the content of others. This lets participants build a searchable personal system of organization that is easily shared with the larger community. 

The host site leverages this tagging to create a tag-cloud showing the electronic pulse of the group.

hot search tags at 21 cif

alphabetically arranged tag-cloud of authors cataloged at Library Thing

  Alphabetical tag-cloud of authors cataloged on Library Thing, Updated every 20 minutes.

Storm Clouds: The Problems with Tags

Rainy man with a tag-cloud face

Tags have built in weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If spammers can freely add irrelevant tags just to attract attention, communities suffer. Tags are limited to single words and a single keyword is a weak search tool. This means tag searching “board’ might get you surf, skate, snow, lumber, school or corporate associations. It's best to add multiple tags to describe content, but that can lead to a sloppy soup of tags that soon scrolls off the screen. 

Once you develop a large tag collection you need more formal organizational structures like subject indexes or the good old Dewey Decimal System.  To make your tag system more efficient you will have to spend time grouping, alphabetizing, combining and editing your tags.

Additionally, the quality of tagged information depends on the quality of the community. Will a Flickr based surfer publishing pictures of big waves on Maui have better information than the National Weather Forecast Office in Honolulu?  (I suppose the answer depends on what you want to know:  Is the surf up or is a tsunami coming?)

Silver Lining!

Don’t let the weaknesses of tags & tag-clouds keep you from using this technology. Try harnessing the novelty and fun built into Web 2.0 applications to create your own community of interest and extend the reach of your classroom and your ideas.  If you have a website, you can tweak tag-clouds to help suggest keywords that point your students toward the resources you want them to see. Tag-cloud metaphors are a great springboard for whole class keyword brainstorming before a research project. Who knows, you may even be able to spot a trend by skimming the Tag-Clouds.  It is best to think of tags as just one more channel of information, a fun supplement to search engine based research.

Web 2.0 Tags, Tools & References

Eurekster:  You don’t need your own website to use this innovative search service. You can set up a personalized search engine using a free Eurekster account.  Eurekster's template driven system makes it easy to pick initial keywords for your custom tag-cloud. You also specify the websites that your search engine will use. This helps you quickly build a curriculum based information resource.  Additionally, Eurekster will track keywords for you and send you a digest of new tags you can then add to your tag-cloud.

Library Thing  This is a new online book cataloging system that combines social networking elements. As you can see from the illustrations above, the site makes use of an extensive tag-cloud system.  From the website: "LibraryThing is a full-powered cataloging application, searching the Library of Congress, all five national Amazon sites, and more than 60 world libraries. You can edit your information, search and sort it, "tag" books with your own subjects, or use the Library of Congress and Dewey systems to organize your collection.  If you want it... check out other people's libraries, see who has the most similar library to yours, swap reading suggestions and so forth. LibraryThing also makes book recommendations based on the collective intelligence of the other libraries."

Logo Generator (Fun):  This page will crank out a parody of Web 2.0 logo design for any title or phrase you enter. (We used it to create the title for this article.) The system generates the image and the the html code you need to produce your logo.

TechCrunch: All the Cool Kids are Deep Tagging   This hip blog gives you a taste of user generated content about tagging. The power of hand crafted tagging and the difficulty search engines have indexing the dynamic content of Web 2.0 sites are thoughtfully discussed.  Included are many links to fascinating sites you are not likely to find with a search engine.

Yahoo Search Builder: To effectively use this tool you will need your own webpage or site and some familiarity with html.  Search Builder will generate a tag-cloud based on the keywords entered by users.  Search builder lets you hand pick the sites you want to search. You also get a few boolean options (AND , NOT) and a site exclusion tool that shows promise. You can add or filter out specific keywords, which gives you the power to focus your search results more specifically. The more focused you make your personalized search engine, the more uniquely valuable it becomes as a teaching tool. Excluding sites helps to screen out anything offensive or off topic. Of course the only way you can really develop this tool is by building it and testing it and watching the results. You can then fine tune the resources you wish to search while you watch your Tag-Cloud grow.

ZoomClouds This online application helps you build custom tag-clouds based on RSS feeds. You'll need to spin the blade on your turbo-dweeb beanie a bit, but the site does deliver an interesting service for those who actively blog or edit wikis that have RSS feeds..