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Stupidest Web Feature Ever Created: Tag Clouds

Tag CoudAgree or disagree?

Not sure I’ve blogged about this openly yet, so I’m going to do it now. Tag clouds are the stupidest creation on the web I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been on the web. I don’t use tag clouds — and I can’t imagine anyone that does. A list of unsorted single words, some bigger than others? Does nothing for me — the only words that are ever going to catch my attention in a tag cloud are ones that might swing me into “I’m a male” mode, such as “Jennifer Love Hewitt Naked”. Otherwise, a random assortment of words just distracts me, doesn’t make me focus in on one of them or give me more ideas of what I could be looking at. If I’m looking for something, I do a search for it.

Tag CloudIs there anyone that reads my blog that will be a brave soul and come forward to tell me that you use tag clouds (and why)? Otherwise, please feel free to vocalize your points as to why this is the absolute worst “feature” (and waste of valuable real estate space on any webpage).

Point is, I don’t think anyone uses these. If people do, then I “just don’t get it”.

  • Marcus

    Actually I find tag clouds quite useful for very fast overview of related content, for example to review all the topics a blog covers the first time I come across it.
    I also use a GreaseMonkey script that adds a tag cloud for each google search I perform and it helps me refine my search terms quicker.

  • http://www.technologyevangelist.com Ed Kohler

    Generally, the tags are sorted alphabetically. It can give a good feel for what topics are most popular on a site. For example, here’s a link to the tag cloud for Technology Evangelist. A person could quickly get a feel for what topics receive the most coverage by quickly scanning that page. The del.icio.us tag cloud makes it pretty obvious that the average del.icio.us user is fairly techie.

  • http://www.copyrightings.com Kevin

    I use tag clouds. I think they are useful coming to a new site to get the ideas they deal with easily. I think if they are the tags for blog posts they are useful for narrowing down to the relevant posts.

    They aren’t the be all end all, but they certainly do no harm.

  • http://politicalopinions.co.uk Grant Bowskill

    I use tag clouds for a site I’ve developed which aggregates Political Blogs in the UK: http://politicalopinions.co.uk.

    One of the goals of the site is to make it easier for people to find blog posts about a subject they are interested in. By having a tag cloud under each posts it makes it easy for people to quickly find all posts that have this tag.

    I do agree that a tagcloud in the sidebar of a blog is pretty useless and I don’t think I’ve ever clicked on one but in the case I describe above it has proved incredibly useful for myself and others. Somebody left me some feedback to say they had never seen tagclouds used after each post in this way.

    Its definitely not the stupidest web feature ever though. That title belongs to the Snap Preview stupidness that seems to have taken off everywhere.

  • http://www.thedeplorableword.net/ Tom

    The only decent interface is Flickr’s Popular tags, it gives you a quick way to see what’s popular at the moment. I don’t really think they should be used in place of regular navigation/menus.

  • http://www.kartlink.com Mary-Ann Horley

    I tag my posts for my own purposes, and although I thought it was a bit gimmicky I added a cloud to my front page. My readers (non-techy) loved it, so it stayed.

  • http://www.michaelwales.com/ Michael Wales

    I don’t use them very often and yes, I think they are a hideous design element.

    My most common use is to glance at them for the largest words. If I’m on a site about technology and the largest tag is cats, I’m hitting the Back button on my browser very quickly.

  • http://wantsy.blogspot.com Robert Dewey

    I like using tag clouds, especially if they are implemented right. I like them better than hard-coded categories; it’s done quite well by http://www.gojobby.com

    In all actuality, I like using the tag cloud over search… But I prefer a combination of the two.

  • http://BoldlyGoing.com James D Kirk

    This is a great topic. I’ve been wondering the “true value” of the cloud myself. For a long time I was poring over the UTW code to try and figure out how to create something more useful with its functionality. We wanted to have the relevance be around the most recently active tags, as opposed to the only two choices you have with UTW now: alphabetical or most posts. In our thoughts, the post that had most recently been written, or commented upon would receive a tick and when the cloud is displayed the highest number of ticks for recent activity would be at the head of the list, and then be sized/colored based upon secondary relevance of number of posts, etc.

    Ended up being too tough for me to figure out :'( And since then I’ve been reconsidering the cloud we are using. I sort of like the display in that it seems to be unobtrusively located, and our color scheme isn’t obnoxious.

    Would love any feedback that TS’s folks might have for me to be able to improve our TC (but not from you Steve. I think I know what you’ll tell me to do with it 😉 ) Thanks in advance if anyone checks out the site and comments. Much appreciated.

    Go Boldly!

  • http://liveandbeyond.com pr0xy k1ll3r

    I have to agree with you on this one. They do not serve much of a purpose. Just give someone a vague idea what the site is all about. I just stick to categories for mine. Ol’ skool and works damn good!

  • http://www.dogballsblog.com marc

    Great topic. I think clouds give a bird’s eye view (excuse the pun) of what a blog/site’s author’s interests are but i’ve never actually clicked through to any terms to dive deeper.

  • http://seanprice.net/blog Sean

    i like tag clouds and tend to use them on a few sites i run, although i believe that they were intereting and “cool” when they were first popular, but now even though i like them and use them i can honestly say they dont have much use really.

  • http://ideaisqueen.com Timothy Chen

    I think tag cloud is a good way to save “screen real estate”, at least you don’t have to scroll down or jump to another page to see all ranked topics.

  • info21dt

    glad to see you’re finally catching up to 2005 now that it’s 2007. clouds are visual density representations. now, you may be asking yourself one of two questions – what does that mean – or – how does that translate to me?

    well, given your example, you will be able to easily determine that any site providing a tag cloud for your perusal which does not have “Jennifer Love Hewitt Naked” in the cloud or, if the term is included but, is not of a sufficiently large type–as to indicate that the term is a primary topic–you may safely ignore the site without fear of missing actual relevant and important posts pertaining to “Jennifer Love Hewitt Naked”…

    /end tic

  • Pingback: Do you use tag clouds? -- Young Go Getter()

  • Fred

    I believe that tag clouds should not be used as a “browse” feature (We all hate a structure for browsing that changes overtime if we are regular user – think about these awful “personalized menus” in Word or Excel).

    But can be a good “what’s hot” feature if properly implemented. Especially if you have to model a “quick overview” of large amount of data.

  • http://www.thejshow.com Jeremy Kandah

    It’s kind of cool to see what everybody else is doing out there. The visual element of it rocks. It shows a lot of information, but I think that your complaint comes in that most users don’t know what they are looking for.

  • http://FoundersCafe.com Jimmy

    I use it for the same reason Steve uses it … to make sure I don’t miss the “Jennifer Love Hewitt Naked” tag 😀

  • http://www.musmo.com/ KwangErn Liew

    Problem is, tag clouds aren’t used efficiently, or rather productively.

    So what if we know a tag has more counts than the other? It means nothing unless we can do something with it. There’s a BlogUp plugin by TWiki that uses tag clouds efficiently. Of others? I haven’t seen it like that, yet?

  • Davey H

    I’m with you! It seems that any site that wants to be at all associated with Web 2.0 puts tag clouds all over the place. I think they have some use for showing what is being discussed at a point in time – news stories, recipes for a time of year, etc – but I hate going to a site where they have a ton of tag clouds in place of navigation.

    A tool in my marketing dept suggests these all the time, I’m going to send him this to shut the J Timberlake lookalike up.

  • http://www.meridiancrest.com Scot Smith

    There are probably easier ways to display data, but tag clouds are pretty easy to interpret on teh interwebz. :)

  • Shiva

    Actually its very helpful if we use it in the right place.Since it comes as a default tool for any web2.0 site, maybe it seems overused…

    And i agree with Marc’s comments as a “Birds Eye View”.Really it is, as i don’t want to hit a search button to find what i need for, as i don’t know what exists without seeing it visually through a tag cloud.

  • http://giddlebits.wordpress.com Nathan

    I think the general idea of tag clouds is an interesting one, although that could potentially even be created.

    I wonder about an optimized tag cloud. Instead of jumbling them together, put them in a list. This could be the difference of use between a nimbos cloud (current design) and a cumulos cloud (vertical design). Eg: The size of the text could still be variabe, to some degree, but have the list automatically sorted with the most common (largest) at the top.

    Otherwise I find tag clouds obnoxious. One of the things I hate most about ma.gnolia is that it tag clouds vs. del.icio.us which doesn’t tag cloud automatically (if i recall).

  • matt

    I like tag clouds when they are set up in an aesthetically pleasing way…

    The sad thing is so many people love to recreate a trend and contrive their own version of “quality” so the mass of examples is clouded with bad execution….

    (yeah, pun intended).

  • http://riseofthephx.com Gregg

    If we didn’t have tag clouds what the heck would we do with all these tags? Actually, I am split on this as I agree with their utilized in the wrong spot on pages, or are presented in an overwhelming fashion.
    The birds eye view comment by Marc is spot on, as they help the viewer quickly evaluate the theme of the site and content there-in. I also agree a good tag cloud has an order that is easily recognizable(alphabetical, popularity). I agree with Tom, Flickr has the right idea.

  • http://franticindustries.com Stan Schroeder

    I use a tag cloud on my site, but I’m not a huge proponent (or opponent) of them. I just thought it might be a nice addition to the site, to let people see what topics I cover most often.

    However, in your article you give absolutely no arguments against the use of tag clouds. You just claim they’re useless. Well, how about that Twitter badge you have in your sidebar? Is it useful? Not for me. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to trash it as a stupid/useless feature.

  • Zviki Cohen

    I agree. Tag clouds are just a total mess. We were taught over the years to think in hierarchy, so don’t try to fix us…

  • http://pageman.multiply.com The Pageman

    I heard somewhere that you can put *your* own tag cloud at the back of your business card so that people would have a quick idea of what you’re into and give them a context :)

  • http://investrish.com Adam

    I like the tag clouds on last.fm

  • Jake

    I think tag clouds, if used correctly, are much like other mind-mapping tools. It helps to put, for example, the topics you are blogging about into a cluster of more and less important topics symbolized by words…

    nice post btw!

  • http://neurokinetikz.com/user/tags/66 Michael Lacy

    You just haven’t seen tag clouds done well. You can filter mine by date, category, content type, site, time, etc.

    http://neurokinetikz.com/user/tags/66

  • http://www.schmildo.com schmildo

    I’m on a war-path, i’m going to paste in my response from another website about tag-clouds, and how much I hate them.
    I only sleep well at night because I know they will in time, become uncool.

    —————
    I hate tagclouds with white-hot passion.
    I hate them even more than I hate blog sites. (no personal offence intended, I’m relieved you too are sceptical of this new ‘fad’)

    Blog sites are the bane of the internet, they are the digital equivalent of the scrawl on the back of a public toilet door, except they are less intersting, more difficult to read and filled with inappropriately utilised ‘plug and play’ web2 features. So it is of no surprise to me that blog sites have taken up tagclouds.

    Tagclouds are naturally the digital equivalent of thought-maps. Thought maps are only relevant to the creator of the map. To others the information is often disjoint and irrelevant. This holds true of tagclouds. The data displayed is only relevant to the designer of the site’s metadata. It is digital vomit.

    I wanted to leave a comment because I struggled to find anyone else online who thought tagclouds were impractical, and i needed to vent. LOL

    There should be an international site where everyone can go and complain about specific internet trends.

    Rock on.

    Schmildo.
    ————-

  • http://www.facebook.com/vance.feldman Vance Feld

    I’ve never, ever clicked on a tag cloud, except once when a client wanted to “improve” their tag cloud. I said improve it by getting rid of it.