Tag Archives: tag clouds

altocumulus blogging Design folksonomies information-retrieval information scent learnability Map App of the Day navigation plugin site-navigation spatial maps tagging Usability visualizing music word clouds WordPress Writing

Map Apps of the Day: Islands of Music and the Continental Zodiac

Two interesting uses of maps today, one is a completely non-geographical map that illustrtaes data while the other is a completely artistic use of geography.

Islands of Music

Last.fm is  a great service – I’ve written about it before.  The best thing about it is the copious and collection of interesting data on music tastes (you can even see how geeky your taste in music is).

Like many other web sites Last.fm has a tagging system, and so it interesting to see how different tags relate to each other – are hip-hop fans more likely to listen to ambient or heavy metal?  One very cool way to do this is with a map.

islands of music from last.fm

See the orginal version here, complete with mouseover descriptions of the different islands.  Visualizing music tatses as a map makes some interesting findings pop out – the long continent of folk, psychadelic, and metal in the northeast, for example.  Deathcore and emo are on the same continent, just on opposite sides of what I call You-Don’t-Understand-Me-Dad Bay.

This is an alternative to more conventional tag cloud or word cloud representations, though I’m not sure which presents information more clearly.

Another thing that strikes me is the similarity to video game maps – perhaps because of the iconic color palate.  Though we might think of them geographically, video game maps are equally artificial ways to relate to a big pile of numerical data.

World maps as Chinese zodiac

Artist Kentaro Nagai has used the continents (and major islands) as a medium to create the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.  See all of them here.

I particularly like the economy of arrangement in the rooster:

Rooster from Chinese zodiac

…and the sheep for it’s nice use of negative space.

The sheep from the Chinese zodiac

Thanks to Chris for the link to the Zodiac

Word Clouds – what are they good for?

ReadWriteWeb had an interesting post showing word clouds generated from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. 

Obama Inauguration word cloud

But what are word clouds, and how are they useful? Word clouds visually represent the frequency or importance of a word in a given text. In President Obama’s speech, we can see from the cloud that he used words like “nation”, “new”, and “people” fairly often. You can use them to compare to texts in in a sort of qualitative way – does one text have a much sharper distribution than the other?

I would say that most of the time their primary purpose is aesthetic. I’m not convinced people really use them for anything other than as nice design elements – thought I think they have untapped potential. That’s why I created the Tag Altocumulus WordPress Plugin, to try to integrate tag clouds into a site’s navigation system in a way that’s actually useful.

To generate the clouds they used Wordle, a very cool site that lets you create your own word clouds from any text.  Wordle gives you options on color, font, and orientation and you can end up with some pretty nice looking clouds. I went ahead and generated one from my paper on Tagging and Searching:

Wordle: Tagging and Searching

It does look pretty cool. Wordle also will generate a cloud from any site with an RSS feed. Here’s the cloud for my site:

Wordle: Blog cloud

Drop me a note in the comments below if you make one for your site or find an interesting text to use.

Update to Altocumulus WordPress Tagging Plugin – version 0.2

Screenshot of my tag cloud WordPress plugin in action

Everyone has tag clouds all over the web, but are they really useful?  Altocumulus is an attempt to use tag clouds as a real navigational system in WordPress blogs.

Install the plugin and it will automatically put a cloud of related tags at the top of all your Category and Tag pages.  Hopefully this will serve two purposes:

  1. Users who end up on a general category page can click through to a more specific (or more relevant) tag page, and
  2. It should give users a general idea of the topic of the posts on that archive page, increasing the information scent.

Next version I’ll add an options screen where you can change the number of tags, placement, etc.

Please drop me a note if you run into any bugs or are using it on your blog.  Let me know if you have any ideas you’d like to see implemented, too – I am all about implementing and studying folksonomies.  The more folks who are interested, the more likely I am to add features.  Thanks.

Download the Plugin Here