Archive for February 2006


Second Generation Tag Clouds

February 23rd, 2006 — 5:34pm

Lets build on the analy­sis of tag clouds from Tag Clouds Evolve: Under­stand­ing Tag Clouds, and look ahead at what the near future may hold for sec­ond gen­er­a­tion tag clouds (per­haps over the next 12 to 18 months). As you read these pre­dic­tions for struc­tural and usage changes, keep two con­clu­sions from the pre­vi­ous post in mind: first, ade­quate con­text is crit­i­cal to sus­tain­ing the chain of under­stand­ing nec­es­sary for suc­cess­ful tag clouds; sec­ond, one of the most valu­able aspects of tag clouds is as visu­al­iza­tions of seman­tic fields.
Based on this under­stand­ing, expect to see two broad trends sec­ond in gen­er­a­tion tag clouds.
In the first instance, tag clouds will con­tinue to become rec­og­niz­able and com­pre­hen­si­ble to a greater share of users as they move down the nov­elty curve from nou­veau to known. In step with this grow­ing aware­ness and famil­iar­ity, tag cloud usage will become:
1. More fre­quent
2. More com­mon
3. More spe­cial­ized
4. More sophis­ti­cated
In the sec­ond instance, tag cloud struc­tures and inter­ac­tions will become more com­plex. Expect to see:
1. More sup­port for cloud con­sumers to meet their needs for con­text
2. Refined pre­sen­ta­tion of the seman­tic fields under­ly­ing clouds
3. Attached con­trols or fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity that allow cloud con­sumers to directly change the con­text, con­tent, and pre­sen­ta­tion of clouds
Together, these broad trends mean we can expect to see a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of numer­ous and diverse tag clouds val­ued for con­tent and capa­bil­ity over form. Sec­ond gen­er­a­tion clouds will be eas­ier to under­stand (when designed cor­rectly…) and open to manip­u­la­tion by users via increased func­tion­al­ity. In this way, clouds will visu­al­ize seman­tic fields for a greater range of sit­u­a­tions and needs, across a greater range of speci­ficity, in a greater diver­sity of infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments, for a greater num­ber of more var­ied cloud con­sumers.
Usage Trends
To date, tag clouds have been applied to just a few kinds of focuses (links, pho­tos, albums, blog posts are the more rec­og­niz­able). In the future, expect to see spe­cial­ized tag cloud imple­men­ta­tions emerge for a tremen­dous vari­ety of seman­tic fields and focuses: celebri­ties, cars, prop­er­ties or homes for sale, hotels and travel des­ti­na­tions, prod­ucts, sports teams, media of all types, polit­i­cal cam­paigns, finan­cial mar­kets, brands, etc.
From a busi­ness view­point, these tag cloud imple­men­ta­tions will aim to advance busi­ness ven­tures explor­ing the poten­tial value of aggre­gat­ing and expos­ing seman­tic fields for a vari­ety of strate­gic pur­poses:
1. Cre­at­ing new mar­kets
2. Under­stand­ing or chang­ing exist­ing mar­kets
3. Pro­vid­ing value-added ser­vices
4. Estab­lish­ing com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est / need / activ­ity
5. Aid­ing over­sight and reg­u­la­tory imper­a­tives for trans­parency and account­abil­ity.
Mea­sure­ment and Insight
I think tag clouds will con­tinue to develop as an impor­tant poten­tial mea­sure­ment and assess­ment vehi­cle for a wide vari­ety of pur­poses; clouda­li­cious is a good exam­ple of an early use of tag clouds for insight. Other appli­ca­tions could include using tag clouds to present meta­data in geospa­tial or spa­tiose­man­tic set­tings that com­bine GPS / GIS and RDF con­cept / knowl­edge struc­tures.
Within the realm of user expe­ri­ence, expect to see new user research and cus­tomer insight tech­niques emerge that employ tag clouds as visu­al­iza­tions and instan­ti­a­tions of seman­tic fields. Maybe even cloud sort­ing?
Clouds As Nav­i­ga­tion
Turn­ing from the strate­gic to the tac­ti­cal realm of expe­ri­ence design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, I expect tag clouds to play a grow­ing role in the nav­i­ga­tion of infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments as they become more com­mon. Nav­i­ga­tional appli­ca­tions com­prise one of the first areas of tag cloud appli­ca­tion. Though nav­i­ga­tion rep­re­sents a fairly nar­row usage of tag clouds, in light of their con­sid­er­able poten­tial in reify­ing seman­tic fields to ren­der them action­able, I expect nav­i­ga­tional set­tings will con­tinue to serve as a pri­mary exper­i­men­tal and evo­lu­tion­ary venue for learn­ing how clouds can enhance larger goals for infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments such as enhanced find­abil­ity.
For new infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments, the rules for tag clouds as nav­i­ga­tion com­po­nents are largely unwrit­ten. But many infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments already have mature nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems. In these set­tings, tag clouds will be one new type of nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nism that infor­ma­tion archi­tects and user expe­ri­ence design­ers inte­grate with exist­ing nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nisms. David Fiorito’s and Richard Dalton’s pre­sen­ta­tion Cre­at­ing a Con­sis­tent Enter­prise Web Nav­i­ga­tion Solu­tion is a good frame­work / intro­duc­tion for ques­tions about how tag clouds might inte­grate into mature or exist­ing nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems. Within their matrix of struc­tural, asso­cia­tive and util­ity nav­i­ga­tion modes that are invoked at vary­ing lev­els of prox­im­ity to con­tent, tag clouds have obvi­ous strengths in the asso­cia­tive mode, at all lev­els of prox­im­ity to con­tent, and poten­tial strength in the struc­tural mode. Fig­ure 1 shows two tag clouds play­ing asso­cia­tive roles in a sim­ple hypo­thet­i­cal nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.
Fig­ure 1: Asso­cia­tive Clouds

I also expect nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems will fea­ture mul­ti­ple instances of dif­fer­ent types of tag clouds. Nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems employ­ing mul­ti­ple clouds will use com­bi­na­tions of clouds from vary­ing con­texts (as flickr and tech­no­rati already do) or domains within a larger infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment to sup­port a wide vari­ety of pur­poses, includ­ing implicit and explicit com­par­i­son, or views of the envi­ron­ment at mul­ti­ple lev­els of gran­u­lar­ity or res­o­lu­tion (high level / low level). Fig­ure 2 illus­trates mul­ti­ple clouds, Fig­ure 3 shows clouds used to com­pare the seman­tic fields of a one focus cho­sen from a list, and Fig­ure 4 shows a hier­ar­chi­cal lay­out of nav­i­ga­tional tag clouds.
Fig­ure 2: Mul­ti­ple Clouds

Fig­ure 3: Cloud Com­par­i­son Lay­out

Fig­ure 4: Pri­mary / Sec­ondary Lay­out

Struc­tural and Behav­ioral Trends
Let’s move on to con­sider struc­tural and behav­ioral trends in the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds.
Given the suc­cess of the sim­ple yet flex­i­ble struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds, I expect that sec­ond gen­er­a­tion clouds will not sub­stan­tially change their basic struc­ture. For exam­ple, tag clouds will not have to change to make use of chang­ing tag­ging prac­tices that enhance the seman­tic depth and qual­ity of tags applied to a focus, such as faceted tag­ging, use of qual­i­fiers, hier­ar­chi­cal tag­ging, and other forms. James Melzer iden­ti­fies some best prac­tices on del.icio.us that make con­sid­er­able sense when the focus of a seman­tic field is a link. His rec­om­men­da­tions include:

  • Source your infor­ma­tion with via:source_name or cite:source_name
  • Cre­ate a par­ent cat­e­gories, and thus a rudi­men­tary hier­ar­chy, with parent_tag/subject_tag
  • Men­tion pub­li­ca­tions names with in:publication_name
  • Flag the type of resource with .exten­sion or =resource_type
  • Use a com­bi­na­tion of gen­eral and spe­cific tags on every book­mark to pro­vide both clus­ter­ing and differentiation
  • Use syn­onyms or alter­nate forms of tags
  • Use unique or dis­tinc­tive terms from doc­u­ments as tags (don’t just use major sub­ject terms)

The two ele­ment struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds can accom­mo­date these tag­ging prac­tices. How­ever, with a seman­tic field of greater depth and rich­ness avail­able, the inter­ac­tions, behav­iors, and pre­sen­ta­tion of tag clouds will evolve beyond a sta­tic set of hyper­links.
Cloud con­sumers’ need for bet­ter con­text will drive the addi­tion of fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity that iden­tify the con­text of a tag cloud explic­itly and in detail. For exam­ple, clouds cre­ated by a defined audi­ence will iden­tify that audi­ence, whether it be sys­tem admin­is­tra­tors, free­lance web design­ers, DJ’s, or pas­try chefs rat­ing recipes and cook­ing equip­ment and pro­vide indi­ca­tion of the scope and time peri­ods that bound the set of tags pre­sented in the cloud. Flickr and oth­ers do this already, offer­ing clouds of tags cov­er­ing dif­fer­ent inter­vals of time to account for the chang­ing pop­u­lar­ity of tags over their lifes­pan.
Mov­ing from pas­sive to inter­ac­tive, tag clouds will allow users to change the cloud’s seman­tic focus or con­text with con­trols, fil­ters, or other para­me­ters (did some­one say ‘slid­ers’ — or is that too 5 min­utes ago…?). I’ve seen sev­eral pub­lic requests for these sorts of fea­tures, like this one: “It would be great if I could set pref­er­ences for items such as time frame or for tags that are rel­e­vant to a par­tic­u­lar area etc or even colour the most recent tags a fiery red or remove the most recent tags.” Fig­ure 5 shows a tag cloud with con­text con­trols attached.
Fig­ure 5: Con­text Con­trols
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Fig­ure 6: Behav­ior Con­trols
behavior_control.gif
Diver­si­fy­ing con­sumer needs and goals for way find­ing, ori­en­ta­tion, infor­ma­tion retrieval, task sup­port, prod­uct pro­mo­tion, etc., will bring about inverted tag clouds. Inverted tag clouds will cen­ter on a tag and depict all focuses car­ry­ing that tag.
Fig­ure 7: Inverted Clouds Show Con­cep­tu­ally Related Focuses
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In the vein of con­tin­ued exper­i­ment, tag clouds will take increased advan­tage with RIA / AJAX and other user expe­ri­ence con­struc­tion meth­ods. Fol­low­ing this, tag clouds may take on some of the func­tions of known nav­i­ga­tion ele­ments, appear­ing as sub-menus / drop down menus offer­ing sec­ondary nav­i­ga­tion choices.
Fig­ure 8: Clouds As Drop Menus

Along the same lines, tag clouds will demon­strate more com­plex inter­ac­tions, such as spawn­ing other tag clouds that act like mag­ni­fy­ing lenses. These over­lap­ping tag clouds may offer: mul­ti­ple lev­els of gran­u­lar­ity (a gen­eral view and zoom view) of a seman­tic field; the­saurus style views of related con­cepts; para­me­ter dri­ven term expan­sion; com­mon types of rela­tion­ship (other peo­ple bought, by the same author, syn­onyms, pre­vi­ously known as, etc.)
Fig­ure 9: Mag­ni­fy­ing Clouds
cloud_lens.gif
Gen­res
Look­ing at the inter­sec­tion of usage and behav­ior trends, I expect tag clouds will evolve, dif­fer­en­ti­ate, and develop into stan­dard gen­res. Gen­res will con­sist of a sta­ble com­bi­na­tion of tag cloud con­tent, con­text, usage, func­tion­al­ity, and behav­ior within dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments. The same busi­ness and user goals that sup­port gen­res in other media and modes of visu­al­iza­tion will drive the devel­op­ment of these tag cloud gen­res. One genre I expect to see emerge shortly is the search result.
Con­clu­sions
Read­ing over the list, I see this is an aggres­sive set of pre­dic­tions. It’s fair to ask if I really have such high expec­ta­tions for tag clouds? I can’t say tag clouds will take over the world, or even the Inter­net. But I do believe that they fill a gap in our col­lec­tive visu­al­iza­tion toolset. The quan­tity, qual­ity, and rel­e­vance of seman­tic infor­ma­tion in both real and vir­tual envi­ron­ments is con­stantly increas­ing. (In fact, the rate of increase is itself increas­ing, though that is a tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non.) I think tag clouds offer a poten­tial to quickly and eas­ily sup­port the chain of under­stand­ing that’s nec­es­sary for seman­tic fields across diverse kinds of focuses. There’s need for that in many quar­ters, and I expect that need to con­tinue to grow.
For the moment, it seems obvi­ous that tag clouds will spend a while in an early exper­i­men­tal phase, and then move into an awk­ward ado­les­cent phase, as fea­tures, appli­ca­tions and gen­res sta­bi­lize in line with grow­ing aware­ness and com­fort with clouds in var­i­ous set­tings.
I expect these pre­dic­tions to be tested by exper­i­ments will play out quickly and in semi or fully pub­lic set­tings, as in the exam­ple of the dia­log sur­round­ing 83 degrees usage of a tag cloud as the sole nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nism on their site that Rashmi Sinha’s post The tag-cloud replaces the basic menu — Is this a good idea? kicked off recently.
My answer to this ques­tion is that replac­ing all nav­i­ga­tion menus with a tag cloud is only a good idea under very lim­ited cir­cum­stances. It’s pos­si­ble that 83 Degrees may be one of these lim­ited instances. Star­tups can ben­e­fit con­sid­er­ably from any pos­i­tive atten­tion from the Web’s early adopter com­mu­nity (wit­ness Don’t Blow Your Beta by Michael Arring­ton of Techcrunch). The page’s designer said, “In this case it was done as a design/marketing effort and not at all for UI”. Since attract­ing atten­tion was the spe­cific pur­pose, I think the result is a suc­cess. But it’s still an exper­i­men­tal usage, and that’s con­sis­tent with the early stage of evo­lu­tion / devel­op­ment of tag clouds in gen­eral.
I’m look­ing for­ward to what hap­pens next…

10 comments » | Ideas, Tag Clouds

Tag Clouds Evolve: Understanding Tag Clouds

February 22nd, 2006 — 1:18pm

Zeld­man jok­ingly called tag clouds “the new mul­lets” last year. At the time, I think he was taken a bit by sur­prise by the rapid spread of the tag cloud (as many peo­ple were). A big year later, it looks like this ver­sion of the world’s favorite dou­ble duty hair­cut will stay in fash­ion for a while. Zeld­man was dis­cussing the first gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds. I have some ideas on what the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds may look like that will con­clude this series of two essays. These two pieces com­bine ideas brew­ing since the tag­ging break­out began in earnest this time last year, with some pre­dic­tions based on recent exam­ples of tag clouds in prac­tice.
Update: Part two of this essay, Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Tag Clouds, is avail­able.
This first post lays ground­work for pre­dic­tions about the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds by look­ing at what’s behind a tag cloud. I’ll look at first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds in terms of their reliance on a “chain of under­stand­ing” that seman­ti­cally links groups of peo­ple tag­ging and con­sum­ing tags, and thus under­lies tag­ging and social meta­data efforts in gen­eral. I’ll begin with struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds, and move quickly to the very impor­tant way that tag clouds serve as visu­al­iza­tions of seman­tic fields.
Anatomy of a Tag Cloud
Let’s begin with the famil­iar first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud. Tag clouds (here we’re talk­ing about the user expe­ri­ence, and not the pro­gram­matic aspects) com­monly con­sist of two ele­ments: a col­lec­tion of linked tags shown in vary­ing fonts and col­ors to indi­cate fre­quency of use or impor­tance, and a title to indi­cate the con­text of the col­lec­tion of tags. Flickr’s tags page is the iconic exam­ple of the first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud. Screen shots of sev­eral other well known tag cloud imple­men­ta­tions show this pat­tern hold­ing steady in first gen­er­a­tion tag­ging imple­men­ta­tions such as del.icio.us and tech­no­rati, and in newer efforts such as last.fm and ma.gnolia.
Wikipedia’s entry for tag cloud is quite sim­i­lar, read­ing, “A tag cloud (more tra­di­tion­ally known as a weighted list in the field of visual design) is a visual depic­tion of con­tent tags used on a web­site. Often, more fre­quently used tags are depicted in a larger font or oth­er­wise empha­sized, while the dis­played order is gen­er­ally alpha­bet­i­cal… Select­ing a sin­gle tag within a tag cloud will gen­er­ally lead to a col­lec­tion of items that are asso­ci­ated with that tag.“
In terms of infor­ma­tion ele­ments and struc­ture, first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds are low com­plex­ity. Fig­ure 1 shows a schematic view of a first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud. Fig­ures 2 through 5 are screen­shots of well-known first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds.
Fig­ure 1: Tag Cloud Struc­ture
cloud.gif
Fig­ure 2: last.fm
lastfm.gif
Fig­ure 3: tech­no­rati
technorati_1.gif
Fig­ure 4: del.icio.us
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Fig­ure 5: Ma.gnolia
magnolia.gif
Tag Clouds: Visu­al­iza­tions of Seman­tic Fields
The sim­ple struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds allows them to per­form a very valu­able func­tion with­out undue com­plex­ity. That func­tion is to visu­al­ize seman­tic fields or land­scapes that are them­selves part of a chain of under­stand­ing link­ing tag­gers and tag con­sumers. This is a good moment to describe the “chain of under­stand­ing”. The “chain of under­stand­ing” is an approach I use to help iden­tify and under­stand all the dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple and mean­ing, and the trans­for­ma­tions and steps involved in pass­ing that mean­ing on, that must work and con­nect prop­erly in order for some­thing to hap­pen, or an end state to occur. The chain of under­stand­ing is my own vari­a­tion / com­bi­na­tion of com­mon cog­ni­tive and infor­ma­tion flow map­ping using a sce­nario style for­mat. I’ve found the term res­onates well with clients and other audi­ences out­side the realm of IA.
How does the chain of under­stand­ing relate to tag clouds? The tags in tag clouds orig­i­nate directly from the per­spec­tive and under­stand­ing of the peo­ple tag­ging, but undergo changes while becom­ing a tag cloud. (For related read­ing, see Rashmi Sinha’s A social analy­sis of tag­ging which exam­ines some of the social mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing the activ­ity of tag­ging.) Tag clouds accrete over time when one per­son or a group of peo­ple asso­ciate a set of terms with a focus of some sort; a photo on flickr, a URL / link in the case of del.icio.us, an album or song for last.fm. As this list shows, a focus can be any­thing that can carry mean­ing or under­stand­ing. The terms or tags serve as car­ri­ers and ref­er­ences for the con­cepts each tag­ger asso­ciates with the focus. Con­cepts can include ideas of about­ness, ori­gin, or pur­pose, descrip­tive labels, etc. While the con­cepts may change, the focus remains sta­ble. What’s key is that the tag is a ref­er­ence and con­nec­tion to the con­cept the tag­ger had in mind. This con­nec­tion requires an ini­tial under­stand­ing of the focus itself (per­haps incor­rect, but still some sort of under­stand­ing), and the con­cepts that the tag­ger may or may not choose to asso­ciate with the focus. And this is the first step in the chain of under­stand­ing behind tag clouds, as shown in Fig­ure 6.
Fig­ure 6: Ori­gin: Focus and Con­cepts
origin.gif
As a result, tag clouds are more than col­lec­tion of descrip­tive or admin­is­tra­tive terms attached to a link, or other sort of focus. The tag is a sort of label that ref­er­ences a con­cept or set of con­cepts. A cloud of tags is then a col­lec­tion of labels refer­ring to a clus­ter of aggre­gated con­cepts. The com­bi­na­tion of tags that refer to con­cepts, with the orig­i­nal focus, cre­ates a ‘seman­tic field’. A seman­tic field is the set of con­cepts con­nected to a focus, but in a form that is now inde­pen­dent of the orig­i­nat­ing tag­gers, and avail­able to other peo­ple for under­stand­ing. In this sense, a seman­tic field serves as a form of rei­fied under­stand­ing that the tag­gers them­selves — as well as oth­ers out­side the group that cre­ated the seman­tic field — can now under­stand, act on, etc. (This speaks to the idea that infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is a dis­ci­pline strongly aimed at reifi­ca­tion, but that’s a dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion…). Fig­ure 7 shows this sec­ond step in the chain of under­stand­ing; with­out it, there is no seman­tic field, and no tag cloud can form. And now because this post is writ­ten from the view­point of prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions for tag cloud evo­lu­tion, I’m going to hold the def­i­n­i­tion and dis­cus­sion of a seman­tic field and focus, before I wan­der off track into semi­otics, lin­guis­tics, or other ter­ri­to­ries. The most impor­tant thing to under­stand is that *tag clouds com­prise visu­al­iza­tions of a seman­tic field*, as we’ve seen from the chain of under­stand­ing.
Fig­ure 7: Seman­tic Field
semantic_field.gif
I believe tag clouds are rev­o­lu­tion­ary in their abil­ity to trans­late the con­cepts asso­ci­ated with nearly any­thing you can think of into a col­lec­tively vis­i­ble and action­able infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment, an envi­ron­ment that car­ries con­sid­er­able evi­dence of the orig­i­nal under­stand­ings that pre­cede and inform it. In a prac­ti­cal infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture sense, tag clouds can make meta­data — one of the more dif­fi­cult and abstract of the fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of the dig­i­tal uni­verse for the prover­bial per­son on the street — vis­i­ble in an eas­ily under­stood fash­ion. The genius of tag clouds is to make seman­tic con­cepts, the frames of under­stand­ing behind those con­cepts, and their man­i­fes­ta­tion as applied meta­data tan­gi­ble for many, many peo­ple.
Fig­ure 8: Seman­tic Field As Tag Cloud
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With this notion of a tag cloud as a visu­al­iza­tion of a seman­tic field in mind, let’s look again at an exam­ple of a tag cloud in prac­tice. The flickr style tag cloud (what I call a first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud) is in fact a visu­al­iza­tion of many tag sep­a­rate clouds aggre­gated together. Seman­ti­cally then, the flickr tag cloud is the visu­al­iza­tion of the cumu­la­tive seman­tic field accreted around many dif­fer­ent focuses, by many peo­ple. In this usage, the flickr tag cloud func­tions as a visu­al­iza­tion of a seman­tic land­scape built up from all asso­ci­ated con­cepts cho­sen from the com­bined per­spec­tives of many sep­a­rate tag­gers.
To sum­ma­rize, cre­at­ing a tag cloud requires com­ple­tion of the first three steps of the chain of under­stand­ing that sup­ports social meta­data. Those steps are:
1. Under­stand­ing a focus and the con­cepts that could apply that focus
2. Accu­mu­lat­ing and cap­tur­ing a seman­tic field around the focus
3. Visu­al­iz­ing the seman­tic field as a tag cloud via trans­for­ma­tion
The fourth step in this chain involves users’ attempts to under­stand the tag cloud. For this we must intro­duce the idea of con­text, which addresses the ques­tion of which orig­i­nal per­spec­tives under­lie the seman­tic field visu­al­ized in a tag cloud, and how those con­cepts have changed before or dur­ing pre­sen­ta­tion.
How Cloud Con­sumers Under­stand Tag Clouds
Users need to put a given tag cloud in proper con­text in order to under­stand the cloud effec­tively. Their end may goals may be find­ing related items, sur­vey­ing the think­ing within a knowl­edge domain, iden­ti­fy­ing and con­tact­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors, or some other pur­pose, but it’s essen­tial for them to under­stand the tags in the cloud to achieve those goals. Thus when­ever a user encoun­ters a tag cloud, they ask and answer a series of ques­tions intended to estab­lish the cloud’s con­text and fur­ther their under­stand­ing. Con­text related ques­tions often include “Where did these tags come from? Who applied them? Why did they choose these tags, and not oth­ers? What time span does this tag cloud cover?” Con­text in this case means know­ing enough about the con­di­tions and envi­ron­ment from which the cloud was cre­ated, and the deci­sions made about what tags to present and how to present them. Fig­ure 9 sum­ma­rizes the idea of con­text.
Fig­ure 9: Cloud Con­text

Once the user or con­sumer places the tag cloud in con­text, the chain of under­stand­ing is com­plete, and they can being to use or work with the tag cloud. Fig­ure 10 shows the com­plete chain of under­stand­ing we’ve exam­ined.
Fig­ure 10 Chain of Under­stand­ing
chain_of_understanding.gif
In part two, titled “Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Tag Clouds”, I’ll share some thoughts on likely ways that the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds will evolve in struc­ture and usage in the near future, based on how they sup­port a chain of under­stand­ing that seman­ti­cally links tag­gers and tag cloud con­sumers. Con­text is the key for tag cloud con­sumers, and we’ll see how it affects the likely evo­lu­tion of the tag cloud as a visu­al­iza­tion tool.
Update: Part two Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Tag Clouds is available

10 comments » | Ideas, Tag Clouds

User Research = R&D

February 14th, 2006 — 10:58pm

This week­end, some of my ear­lier posts dis­cussing the user expe­ri­ence of Lotus Notes sur­faced in the Notes com­mu­nity. Ed Brill — in a post­ing titled Mary Beth has been tak­ing on the crit­ics — ref­er­enced my men­tion of how the head of the Notes UI team was employ­ing user research as a bridge to cus­tomers. Ed com­pli­mented the design team for reach­ing out to crit­ics in pub­lic. This is a well-deserved pat on the back. Yet it falls short of rec­og­niz­ing the more impor­tant point that direct user research should be a basic com­po­nent of any company’s over­all strat­egy and plan­ning for long term suc­cess (or sur­vival).
Why? User research helps build cus­tomer rela­tion­ships, fur­ther design efforts, and iden­tify new busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties when applied across audi­ences (inter­nal and exter­nal con­stituen­cies) and per­spec­tives (mar­ket­ing, sales, prod­uct devel­op­ment), and with an eye for needs beyond imme­di­ate feed­back. This sort of engage­ment with cus­tomers of a soft­ware prod­uct (or any kind of prod­uct) should *not* be spe­cial or note­wor­thy — it should hap­pen all the time. Con­tin­u­ously. I’m think­ing of Jared Spool’s remarks dur­ing his keynote at UI10, to the effect that the user expe­ri­ence per­spec­tive is most suc­cess­ful when it it is a basic com­po­nent of a company’s cul­ture, and thus an assumed aspect of every ini­tia­tive.
In fact, in a socially trans­par­ent, net­worked, and aware envi­ron­ment like the cur­rent FutureP­re­sent, user research serves as a fun­da­men­tal, indis­pens­able form of research and devel­op­ment that com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions must sup­port as part of their port­fo­lio of meth­ods for seek­ing broad based envi­ron­men­tal feed­back (also here). I’ll go so far as to say that user research may move beyond the realm of essen­tial cor­po­rate R&D, and qual­ify as gen­uine basic research.
BTW: maybe it’s just me, but isn’t it a bit omi­nous that the tag line for Notes 7 is “Inno­vate. Col­lab­o­rate. Dom­i­nate.” ? Sounds like some­thing the Borg might say if you asked them how to make breakfast…

Comment » | User Research

JL.com Changes: Tag Cloud Nav, New Styles

February 14th, 2006 — 10:02pm

On Sat­ur­day and Sun­day, I took advan­tage of the Bliz­zard of ’06 to:

  1. imple­ment a tag cloud for navigation
  2. tag all posts with sub­ject metadata
  3. rebuild the some­what creaky col­lec­tion of stylesheets behind JL.com
  4. add a recent com­ments tile

(And peo­ple say I don’t know how to have a good time…?)
The tag cloud is pow­ered by the Move­able­Type plu­gin Tags.App. New stylesheets are loosely based on an Open­Source tem­plate from www.oswd.org called Phe­nom.
Between trips out­side to shovel, I for­got to upload one of the new .css files. Fol­low­ing that, some Notes apol­o­gists justly sent me to school for dis­play­ing my com­ments in crip­plingly small text font.
Thanks to the Notes faith­ful for the feed­back, and con­do­lences to any and all who con­tracted eye strain as a result.

Comment » | About This Site, Tag Clouds

Starbucks and Stroopwafels

February 8th, 2006 — 10:21am

In two ear­lier posts about Star­bucks and prod­uct meta­data, I men­tioned the strange sen­sa­tion of a prod­uct expe­ri­ence over­whelmed by pack­ag­ing — specif­i­cally the meta­data aspects of the pack­ag­ing. Now I’d like to share two more exam­ples of pack­ag­ing bur­dened with meta­data cruft. The first shows an awk­ward trans­la­tion that is an attempt to smooth a sig­nif­i­cant seman­tic tran­si­tion or bound­ary, one cre­ated by a high degree of rel­a­tive cul­tural and con­cep­tual dis­tance between Dutch and Eng­lish food cat­e­gories. The sec­ond shows a phe­nom­e­non I call brand sub­sump­tion. These exam­ples of trans­la­tion and brand sub­sump­tion broaden the orig­i­nal prob­lem into one of incon­sis­tency and mis­align­ment with the over­all expe­ri­ence. Star­bucks has built an empire on the repeat­able, pre­dictable cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, and so this incon­sis­tency impacts the Star­bucks brand. [At least for those who read the pack­ag­ing for their food…]
In the first exam­ple, Star­bucks uses a mar­ket­ing dic­tio­nary to trans­form stroop­wafels into ‘Dutch Caramel Wafers’ that are ‘rich and caramelly-sweet’. I can under­stand the incli­na­tion to change the prod­uct name; stroop­wafel is a Dutch word that’s likely out­side the aware­ness of most Star­bucks cus­tomers. And it’s cer­tainly fur­ther away in terms of cul­tural dis­tance than ‘madeleine’. But the result­ing trans­la­tion is awk­ward because it addresses a very nar­row point of view: It’s only if you’ve for­got­ten the proper Dutch word while try­ing to explain the con­cept of a stroop­wafel that you’ll need to fall back on a label that reads “Dutch caramel wafer”.
Caramel Wafers Label:
swaffles_annotated_1.jpg
Exam­ple two is a brand­ing mashup, involv­ing Walk­ers Short Bread Cook­ies and Star­bucks. In addi­tion to the stan­dard label­ing from the madeleines, we’re now told the maker, the coun­try of ori­gin, and when the maker was estab­lished, for a total of six pieces of infor­ma­tion. The new ele­ments exactly match the stan­dard brand­ing of most Walk­ers mer­chan­dise. I call this phe­nom­e­non brand sub­sump­tion, when one brand sub­sumes another with­out break­ing it down. The Walk­ers brand arguably has greater inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and a longer his­tory than Star­bucks, so I imag­ine the deal bring­ing their ‘delec­tably but­tery’ cook­ies to Star­bucks coun­ters every­where required this unusual com­pro­mise. The result­ing expe­ri­ence is an uneven hybrid; not Walk­ers, not Star­bucks.
Walk­ers Pack­age Label:
walkers_annotated_1.jpg
Look­ing at all three prod­ucts together, it’s clear the new prod­uct fam­ily attached to both pack­ages, ‘Inter­na­tional Treats’, con­tributes to the brand impact by intro­duc­ing a puz­zling incon­sis­tency. Com­pare the orig­i­nal item that started us on this path — madeleines, des­ig­nated ‘Tra­di­tional Favorites’ — with the Dutch and Scot­tish prod­ucts labeled ‘Inter­na­tional’. Label­ing the madeleines French but not inter­na­tional makes no sense, until you turn over the pack­ages: the stroop­wafels are made in the Nether­lands, the short­bread cook­ies are made in Scot­land, and the madeleines are made in the US. The same prod­uct label on one pack­age denotes a cul­tural cat­e­gory for food items, but on other pack­ages defines the man­u­fac­tur­ing loca­tion. The prod­uct fam­ily labels are used for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, which belies their con­sis­tent pre­sen­ta­tion con­text across prod­ucts, via sim­i­lar style, lay­out, struc­ture, col­ors, fonts, etc.
Alto­gether, the com­bi­na­tion of meta­data quan­tity, label­ing incon­sis­tency, and brand­ing strate­gies of trans­la­tion and sub­sump­tion, is unex­pected from Star­bucks — a com­pany built on con­sis­tent cus­tomer experiences.

2 comments » | User Experience (UX)

Belated 2006 Prediction #1

February 1st, 2006 — 11:45pm

It’s only Feb­ru­ary, but I can already tell that I’m going to say “Share­Point is *not* an intranet!” many, many, many times in 2006…

Comment » | Intranets

Four Things...

February 1st, 2006 — 10:39pm

At Peter Boersma’s invi­ta­tion.
Who else has deliv­ered news­pa­pers?
Four Jobs I’ve Had
1. paper­boy
2. radio DJ
3. pizza maker
4. entre­pre­neur
Four Movies I Can Watch Over And Over
1. The Blues Broth­ers (not the new one)
2. Le Samourai
3. In The Mood For Love
4. Last Life In the Uni­verse
Four Places I’ve Almost Lived, And Still Plan To
1. Hong Kong
2. New York
3. San Fran­cisco
4. Ams­ter­dam
Four TV Shows I Love
1. Bat­tlestar Galac­tica (the new one, the new one)
2. Iron Chef (not the new one)
3. The Daily Show
4. Arrested Devel­op­ment
Places I’ve Vaca­tioned
1. Barcelona
2. Sor­rento
3. Lis­bon
4. Yuong Shua
Four of My Favorite Dishes
1. Seared Tuna
2. Osso Bucco
3. Phở
4. Spicy Fish Tacos
Four Sites I Visit Daily
1. Ama­zon — been buy­ing a lot of books these past weeks…
2. allofmp3.com — where I get my music fix
3. cmswatch.com — indis­pens­able when you’re work­ing a cms gig
4. Coolhunting.com — when you need a break from the func­tional
Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now
1. In an enoteca in Rome
2. Rid­ing my Cus­tom X
3. Sip­ping a mojito on the beach
4. In an art gallery
Four Blog­gers I’m Tag­ging
1. Dav­ezilla (much fun­nier than any­thing you’ll see here…)
2. Face­time (is there such a thing as ital­ian motor­cy­cle envy…)
3. Rashmi Sinha (rashmi’s blog is con­sis­tently of stel­lar qual­ity — will she join in some friv­o­lous socia­bil­ity?)
4. Seth Gor­don (seth’s in seat­tle now, will he have time to indulge an old east coast buddy?)

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