New Sidebar Feature – Tag Cloud (sort of)

Most blog systems support tags these days. Put simply, tags are just words that can be used to create informal groups of posts. Tags aren’t as rigidly defined as categories, and so a ramble that covers many topics can have many tags. The purpose of the tags is to allow folks like you to find similar stuff. Since moving to WordPress I’ve started to pay more attention to tags, and at the bottom of each episode you can find a link or three to episodes with similar tags. It’s kind of cool, and it’s search-engine friendly.

Now I have added a widget to the sidebar that provides a ‘tag cloud’ — a list of the tags with the most-used tags in larger font. (I think this is a misuse of ‘cloud’, which in this context is also supposed to show relationships. A true cloud would group tags by how often they are used together.) There are much fancier tag cloud widgets out there, but I was starting to spend way too much time investigating the options. I settled on a nice, simple, colorful widget which is over there now. It’s called “ILW Colorful Tag Cloud” (or something like that). There are a few aesthetic tweaks I’d like to make, like condensing the text, but that shouldn’t be too much trouble.

The widgit’s all right, but the colors are arbitrarily set by me. It would be cool if the colors actually meant something. Since the number of times a tag is used is already represented in the font size, color could be used to show relationships or (better yet) indicate how many times a tag has been clicked. That way the tags more people found interesting would be highlighted.

Another minor problem with the tag cloud as it stands is that most of the 1200 episodes I created with my old blog system have no tags. I’ve gone back to retrofit tags on a few obvious ones, but overall most of this blog is untagged.

But no, not today. No widget modifications, and no more tag retrofitting. I’ve already spent far too much time on this silly feature.

5 thoughts on “New Sidebar Feature – Tag Cloud (sort of)

  1. I don’t know how subtle you are allowed to be in color gradations, but you could put related tags into a similar color group with varying shades for each one. That would help to sort the information visually.

    The library at the community college where I work once had a similar concept for people searching the library catalog. It would do the usual sort of search results listing in the middle of the screen, but in a sidebar it created a cluster diagram with the searcher’s original keywords in the middle, and branches leading to related ideas, with color-coding to indicate the sort of connection — one color for subcategories, one color for bigger categories, another color for similar spellings in case the searcher didn’t get the correct spelling for what he or she wanted, and so forth. Even better, this diagram showed not just first-level connections, but second and sometimes third. Thus, if the searcher didn’t find the right thing right away, he could click on the right word on the diagram and refine his search that way. It was perfect for visual learners, and kinetic learners could understand it, too.

    Alas, that system didn’t last long. I don’t know whether it just wasn’t intelligent enough to make good connections or what. And the college has joined a universal library catalog system that covers all state higher education institutions, meaning that everything is standardized. So now the catalog is once again easy to use only for the verbal learners, who can make use of the “refine search” feature.

    • That feature was probably intrinsic to the old catalog system, and so was lost in the universalization.

      I have complete control over the gradations of color if I write all the logic to track clicks and analyze relationships, which is non-trivial to say the least and requires modification to the back-end database. So, it probably won’t happen any time soon.

      • Actually, the concept map disappeared about a year before the college joined the universal catalog. I’m guessing that whatever analysis went into creating the map wasn’t sophisticated enough to provide reliable pathways. Or maybe the college decided to avoid something that required Flashplayer, in case students didn’t have it on their home computers.

    • I am gradually going back through the old posts and applying tags. I’m trying to get one month’s worth tagged each day, so you will see the tag cloud change as I go. Right now I’m tagging the months of the homeless tour, so ‘travel’ and ‘road’ are gaining stature.

      Tags can be somewhat arbitrary, but hopefully they will tie the blog together, thematically. We’ll see.

      Also, I didn’t bother with a new episode announcing it, but when you look at single-post pages you’ll sometimes see a list of possibly related posts. This will work better when more tags are in, but it’s a pretty sophisticated algorithm that ranks relatedness. So far I like the feature a lot.

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