Friday, October 29, 2010

Tags and Tag Clouds

Every day, thousands, if not millions of people all around the world, update their own personal pages and blogs. This of course results in unumerable amounts of new data being uploaded onto the WWW. Data which, sooner or later will be searched for in Google or Yahoo, by all those who require it. Out of all the millions of searches performed daily on search engines worldwide, what determines which results are listed on top and which are relegated to the bottom of the search?

To facilitate a search, websites and especially blogs and wikis,
allow the creator to Tag the post or update. A Tag is rather like a label given to a post; a piece of metadata which helps describe the item. For example, Blogger has Labels, which the user can insert at the end of each post, with the most popular keywords taken from the post itself. Forum posts, messages, pictures and videos uploaded online can all be tagged - most popular multimedia repositories such as YouTube, Flickr, etc. allow users to tag their posts so that they can be both retrieved more easily by the person uploading them, and also enable users to search for the information they require in a more clear fashion.

Most popular Tags are usually displayed on a website's sidebar and are usully just a list of the most commonly used words. However there are several online applications which make Tags much more visible and attractive to the site visitor. The aggregation of Tags according to the most common word used is called a Tag Cloud and it allows the person looking at it [the Tag Cloud] to immediately identify a Tag which is used more often then others.


Wordle ( is a online application which generates word clouds from the text provided. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Word clouds can be generated in three ways:
  1. Write or simply paste text into a box;
  2. Enter the URL of a Blog feed or any other feed that has an Atom or RSS feed;
  3. Enter a user name to see thier tags.

Click on submit to generate your word cloud.

After your word cloud is generated, you have the option of changing the language, fonts, layouts and colours from the drop down menus on top of the screen. As soon as you are happy with the results of your Tag Cloud, you can click on Save to Public Gallery so that your Tag Cloud will be published for others to see. You can then either print your Wordle or, more appropriately, embed it in your blog or website by clicking on Print and then copy and paste the embed code.

Unfortunately - and that is the only flaw that I have encoutered - Wordle does not allow you to search for other people's Wordles or track your own effectively at that. The only way to track other people's Tag Clouds is to subscribe to their RSS feed. However this should not be a deteriment: in order to keep a copy of your Wordle you can either print it out (both as hard copy and as PDF) or do a Print Screen of your Tag Cloud.

I also have a word of advice for the gallery: while the application itself is suitable for children, some of the items in the public gallery aren't. So - as in the case of other media repositories, such as YouTube, it is imperative that students are supervised at all times.


Like Wordle, TagXedo allows users to create intersting Tag Clouds from any given piece of text, website, RSS feed, etc. Click on, and click on Start Now. It requires the latest version of Microsoft Siverlight to be installed (the application will prompt you and redirect you to install it if your version is not up to scratch).

You will be able to insert words by clicking on Words>Load, and either input a URL in the address field, or copy and paste text from any other document. As in the case of Wordle, you will be able to change the fonts, colours and layouts from the right hand side menus: find the Respins menu, and click on any of the options - Colour, Theme, Font, Orientation or Layout - to give a different "spin" to your Tag Cloud.

An interesting "spin" is that apart from the usual Tag Cloud shapes one has come to expect, Tagxedo offers users the choice to opt for less conventional shapes, such as fruit, animals, everyday objects, etc. And this is not merely limited to applications pre-loaded shapes, either. Apart from the default shapes, you can also load a picture file previously saved on your disk, and apply the shape to your Tag Cloud. Click on Options>Shapes to either choose a default image, or Add Image to upload an image which will then be used as a "template" for your Tag Cloud. You can even upload a picture of yourself, and see how you would look as a Tag Cloud! From the same menu - you can also write a word which will be used as a template for your Tag Cloud: Options>Shapes>Add Word.

To save your Tagxedo Tag Cloud, simply go to Words>Save. You will be prompted with an array of picture types and sizes to choose from, and you will also be granted access to the embed code to embed the Tag Cloud directly into your webpage or blog. To download your Tag Cloud in JPG or PNG format, simply click on the relevant icon and you will be prompted to save the picture onto your hard disk. To publish it online, click on Web>Save, and you will be able to name your creation and grab the embed code and URL of your Tag Cloud too. Upon saving, you will also be able to publish your creation to the Gallery, although since at the moment, Tagxedo is not fully functional, the gallery is disabled, serve for some interesting entries uploaded by the developer. The developer states that, once the gallery is up and running, it will be moderated for "unsuitable" entries. Other features, such as printing from the application itself, are not up and running either.

At the moment, Taxgedo is currently in Beta so all the features of the application are enabled, free of charge. After the beta period ends, certain advanced features (including, unfortunately, the custom shapes option) will require a premium subscription. However the developer promises that the free version will cover a very rich set of functionalities - with over 30 themes, fonts and shapes to choose from. So I say...make the best use of it until the features are all free for all to use :)

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