Tag: visualization

Tag Clouds: Navigation For Landscapes of Meaning

March 14th, 2006 — 4:53pm

I believe the value of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion clouds will be to offer ready nav­i­ga­tion and access to deep, com­plex land­scapes of mean­ing built up from the cumu­la­tive seman­tic infor­ma­tion con­tained in many inter­con­nected tag clouds. I’d like share some thoughts on this idea; I’ll split the dis­cus­sion into two posts, because there’s a fair amount of mate­r­ial.
In a pre­vi­ous post on tag clouds, I sug­gested that the great value of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds is their abil­ity to make con­cepts and meta­data — seman­tic fields — broadly acces­si­ble and easy to under­stand and work with through visu­al­iza­tion. I believe the shift in the bal­ance of roles and value from first to sec­ond gen­er­a­tion reflects nat­ural growth in cloud usage and aware­ness, and builds on the two major trends of tag cloud evo­lu­tion: enhanced visu­al­iza­tion and func­tion­al­ity for work­ing with clouds, and pro­vi­sion of exten­sive con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion to accom­pany tag clouds.
Together, these two growth paths allow cloud con­sumers to fol­low the indi­vid­ual chains of under­stand­ing that inter­sect at con­nected clouds, and bet­ter achieve their goals within the infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment and out­side. Fun­da­men­tally, I believe the key dis­tinc­tions between first and sec­ond gen­er­a­tion clouds will come from the way that clouds func­tion simul­ta­ne­ously as visu­al­iza­tions and nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nisms, and what they allow nav­i­ga­tion of — land­scapes of mean­ing that are rich in seman­tic con­tent of high value.
For exam­ples of both direc­tions of tag cloud evo­lu­tion com­ing together to sup­port nav­i­ga­tion of seman­tic land­scapes, we can look at some of the new fea­tures del.icio.us has released in the past few months. I’ve col­lected three ver­sions of the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture of the stan­dard del.icio.us URL details page from the past seven months as an exam­ple of evo­lu­tion hap­pen­ing right now.
The first ver­sion (screen­shot and break­down in Fig­ure 1) shows the URL details page some­time before August 15th, 2005, when it appeared on Matt McAlister’s blog.
Fig­ure 1: Del.icio.us URL Page — August 2005

The lay­out or infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is fairly sim­ple, offer­ing a list of the com­mon tags for the url / focus, a sum­mary of the post­ing his­tory, and a more detailed list­ing of the post­ing his­tory that lists the dates and tag­gers who book­marked the item, as well as the tags used for book­mark­ing. There’s no cloud style visu­al­iza­tion of the tags attached to this sin­gle focus avail­able: at this time, del.icio.us offered a ren­dered tag cloud visu­al­iza­tion at the aggre­gate level for the whole envi­ron­ment.
Envi­ron­ment and sys­tem design­ers know very well that as the scope and com­plex­ity of an envi­ron­ment increase — in this case, the num­ber of tag­gers, focuses, and tags, plus their cumu­la­tive his­to­ries — it becomes more impor­tant for peo­ple to be explic­itly aware of the con­text of any item in order to under­stand it prop­erly. Explicit con­text becomes more impor­tant because they can rely less and less on implicit con­text or assump­tions about con­text based on the uni­ver­sal aspects of the envi­ron­ment. This is how cloud con­sumers’ needs for clearly vis­i­ble and acces­si­ble chains of under­stand­ing dri­ves the fea­tures and capa­bil­i­ties of tag clouds. Later ver­sions of this page addresses these needs in dif­fer­ing ways, with dif­fer­ing lev­els of suc­cess.
Fig­ure 2 shows a more recent ver­sion of the del.licio.us his­tory for the Ma.gnolia.com ser­vice. This screen­shot taken about ten days ago in early March, while I was work­ing on a draft of this post.
Fig­ure 2: Del.icio.us URL Page — Early March 2006

Key changes from the first ver­sion in August to this sec­ond ver­sion include:

  1. Chang­ing visu­al­iza­tion of the Com­mon Tags block to a cloud style rendering
  2. Remov­ing the indi­vid­ual tags cho­sen by each tag­ger from the Post­ing His­tory block
  3. The addi­tion of a large and promi­nent block of space devoted to “User Notes”
  4. Mov­ing the Post­ing His­tory block to the right column
  5. Chang­ing visu­al­iza­tion of the Post­ing His­tory block to a proto-cloud style rendering

The most impor­tant change in this sec­ond ver­sion is the removal of the indi­vid­ual sets of tags from the Post­ing His­tory. Sep­a­rat­ing the tags applied to the focus from asso­ci­a­ton with the indi­vid­ual tag­gers that chose them strips them of an impor­tant layer of con­text. Remov­ing the nec­es­sary con­text for the tag cloud breaks the chain of under­stand­ing (Fig­ure 3) link­ing tag­gers and cloud con­sumers, and obscures or increases the costs of the social con­cep­tual exchange that is the basic value of del.icio.us to its many users. In this ver­sion, cloud con­sumers con­sumers read­ing the URL details page can only find spe­cific tag­gers based on the con­cepts they’ve matched with this focus by vis­it­ing or nav­i­gat­ing to each indi­vid­ual tag­gers’ area within the larger del.icio.us envi­ron­ment one at a time.
Fig­ure 3: Chain of Under­stand­ing
The switch to ren­der­ing the Com­mon Tags block as a tag cloud is also impor­tant, as an indi­ca­tor of the con­sis­tent spread of clouds to visu­al­ize seman­tic fields, and their grow­ing role as nav­i­ga­tion tools within the larger land­scape.
The User Notes are a good exam­ple of an attempt to pro­vide addi­tional con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion with (poten­tially) high value. User Notes are cre­ated by users exclu­sively for the pur­pose of pro­vid­ing con­text. The other forms of con­text shown in the new lay­out — the Post­ing His­tory, Related Items — serve a con­tex­tual func­tion, but are not cre­ated directly by users with this goal in mind. The dif­fer­ence between the two pur­poses for these items undoubt­edly influ­ences the way that peo­ple cre­ate them, and what they cre­ate: it’s a ques­tion that more detailed inves­ti­ga­tions of tag­ging prac­tices will surely exam­ine.
The third ver­sion of the same URL his­tory page, shown in Fig­ure 4, was released very shortly after the sec­ond, prov­ing tag cloud evo­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing so quickly as to be dif­fi­cult to track delib­er­ately on a broad scale.
Fig­ure 4: Del.icio.us URL Page — March 2006 #2

This ver­sion changes the con­tent and lay­out of the Post­ing His­tory block, restor­ing the com­bined dis­play of indi­vid­ual tag­gers who tagged the URL, with the tags they applied to it, in the order in which they tagged the URL for the first time.
The third ver­sion makes two marked improve­ments over the first and sec­ond versions:

  1. Pre­sen­ta­tion of the indi­vid­ual chains of under­stand­ing that inter­sect with this focus / cloud in nav­i­ga­ble form, to increase aware­ness of the con­text for this item and allow users to retrace these paths to their origins
  2. Pre­sen­ta­tion of indi­vid­ual tag­gers’ flat­tened clouds that inter­sect this focus as nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nisms for mov­ing from the cur­rent focus to else­where within the larger landscape

These three dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the del.icio.us URL details page show that the amount and type of con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion accom­pa­ny­ing a sin­gle focus is increas­ing, and that the num­ber of con­crete nav­i­ga­ble con­nec­tions to the larger seman­tic land­scape of which the focus is one ele­ment also increas­ing
Over­all, it’s clear that clouds are quickly emerg­ing as nav­i­ga­tion tools for com­plex land­scapes of mean­ing, and that cloud con­text has and will con­tinue to become more impor­tant for cloud cre­ation and use.
And so before dis­cussing the con­text nece­sary for clouds and the role of clouds as nav­i­ga­tion aids in more detail, it will be help­ful to get an overview of land­scapes of mean­ing, and how they arise.
Land­scapes of Mean­ing
A land­scape of mean­ing is a densely inter­con­nected, highly valu­able, exten­sive infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment rich in seman­tic con­tent that is cre­ated by com­mu­ni­ties of tag­gers who build con­nected tag clouds. In the early land­scapes of mean­ing emerg­ing now, a con­nec­tion between clouds can be a com­mon tag, tag­ger, or focus: any one of the three legs of the Tag­ging Tri­an­gle required for a tag cloud (more on this below). Because tag clouds visu­al­ize seman­tic fields, con­nected tag clouds visu­al­ize and offer access to con­nected seman­tic fields, serv­ing as bridges between the indi­vid­ual accu­mu­la­tions of mean­ing each cloud con­tains.
Con­nect­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of indi­vid­u­ally cre­ated clouds and fields, as del.icio.us has enabled social book­mark­ers to do by pro­vid­ing nec­es­sary tools and infra­struc­ture, cre­ates a very large infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment whose ter­rain or geog­ra­phy is com­posed of seman­tic infor­ma­tion. Such a seman­tic land­scape is a land­scape con­structed or made up of mean­ing. It is an infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment that allows peo­ple to share con­cepts or for social pur­poses of all kinds, while sup­ported with visu­al­iza­tion, con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion, func­tion­al­ity, and far-ranging nav­i­ga­tion capa­bil­i­ties.
The flickr Land­scape
flickr is a good exam­ple of a land­scape of mean­ing that we can under­stand as a seman­tic land­scape. In a pre­vi­ous post on tag clouds, I con­sid­ered the flickr all time most pop­u­lar tags cloud (shown in Fig­ure 5) in light of the basic struc­ture of clouds:
“The flickr style tag cloud is …a visu­al­iza­tion of many tag sep­a­rate clouds aggre­gated together. …the flickr tag cloud is the visu­al­iza­tion of the cumu­la­tive seman­tic field accreted around many dif­fer­ent focuses, by many peo­ple. …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.”
Fig­ure 5: The flickr All Time Most Pop­u­lar Tags Cloud

From our ear­lier look at the struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds we know a tag cloud visu­al­izes a seman­tic field made up of con­cepts referred to by labels which are applied as tags to a focus of some sort by tag­gers.
Based on our under­stand­ing of the struc­ture of a tag cloud as hav­ing a sin­gle focus, the flickr cloud shows some­thing dif­fer­ent because it includes many focuses. The flickr all time most pop­u­lar tags cloud com­bines all the indi­vid­ual tag clouds around all the indi­vid­ual pho­tos in flickr into a sin­gle visu­al­iza­tion, as Fig­ure 6 shows.
Fig­ure 6: The flickr Land­scape of Mean­ing

This means the flickr all time most pop­u­lar tags cloud is in fact a visu­al­iza­tion of the com­bined seman­tic fields behind each of those indi­vid­ual clouds. It’s quite a bit big­ger in scope than a tra­di­tional sin­gle focus cloud. Because the scope is so large, the amount of mean­ing it sum­ma­rizes and con­veys is tremen­dous. The all time most pop­u­lar tags cloud is in fact a his­toric win­dow on the cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal state of the seman­tic land­scape of flickr as a whole.
This is where con­text becomes crit­i­cal to the proper under­stand­ing of a tag cloud. The cloud title “All time most pop­u­lar tags” sets the con­text for this tag cloud, within the bound­aries of the larger land­scape envi­ron­ment defined and com­mu­ni­cated by flickr’s user epx­e­ri­ence. With­out this title, the cloud is mean­ing­less despite the large and com­plex seman­tic land­scape — all of the infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment of flickr — it visu­al­izes so effec­tively, because cloud con­sumers can­not retrace a com­plete chain of under­stand­ing to cor­rectly iden­tify the cloud’s ori­gin.
flickr — 1st Gen­er­a­tion Land­scape Nav­i­ga­tion
The flickr cloud is a pow­er­ful nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nism for quickly and eas­ily mov­ing about within the land­scape of mean­ing built up by all those thou­sands and thou­sands of indi­vid­ual clouds. Still, because it is a first gen­er­a­tion cloud, we can­not directly fol­low any of the many indi­vid­ual chains of under­stand­ing con­nect­ing this cloud’s tags back to spe­cific tag­gers, or the con­cepts they asso­ciate with spe­cific pho­tos or focuses. In this visu­al­iza­tion, the group’s under­stand­ing of mean­ing is more impor­tant than any individual’s under­stand­ing. And so the flickr cloud does not yet allow us com­pre­hen­sive nav­i­ga­tion of the under­ly­ing seman­tic land­scape illus­trated in Fig­ure 6 (chains of under­stand­ing sug­gested in light green). The flickr cloud also remains a first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud because users can­not con­trol its con­text.
Fig­ure 7: A Seman­tic Land­scape

Even so, these nav­i­ga­tional and con­tex­tual needs will help iden­tify the way that users rely on clouds to work in land­scapes of mean­ing.
Growth of Land­scapes
Land­scapes of mean­ing like flickr, del.icio.us, or the bur­geon­ing num­ber of social seman­tic busi­ness ven­tures debut­ing as I write — typ­i­cally grow from the bot­tom up, emerg­ing as dozens or thou­sands of indi­vid­ual tag clouds cre­ated for dif­fer­ent rea­sons by dif­fer­ent tag­gers coin­ci­den­tally or delib­er­ately inter­con­nect and over­lap, all of this hap­pen­ing through a vari­ety of social mech­a­nisms. Tag­gers typ­i­cally cre­ate con­nected or over­lap­ping tag clouds one at a time, adding tags, focuses, and tag­gers (by cre­at­ing new accounts) in the ad hoc fash­ion of open net­works and archi­tec­tures. But first we should look at the Tag­ging Tri­an­gle to under­stand the most basic ele­ments of a tag cloud.
The Tag­ging Tri­an­gle
To make a tag cloud, you have to have three ele­ments: a focus, a tag­ger, and a(t least one) tag. I call this the Tag­ging Tri­an­gle, illus­trated in Fig­ure 8. In the most com­mon ren­der­ings of famil­iar tag clouds, one or two of these ele­ments are often implied but not shown: yet all three are always present.
This illus­tra­tion shows a cloud of labels, not tags, because a ren­dered cloud is really a list of labels. The labels shown in most first gen­er­a­tion clouds are often tags, but struc­turally they could also be a set of names for tag­gers, as in the del.icio.us post­ing his­tory block proto-cloud we saw above, or a set of focuses as in the ‘Inverted Cloud’ I sug­gested.
Fig­ure 8: The Tag­ging Tri­an­gle
An Exam­ple Land­scape
A sim­ple exam­ple of the growth of seman­tic land­scapes leads nat­u­rally to the dis­cus­sion of spe­cific ways that tag clouds will enable nav­i­ga­tion within large land­scapes of mean­ing.
Fig­ure 9 shows the tag cloud accreted around a sin­gle focus. This cloud includes some of the tags that Tag­ger 1 has used in total across all the tag clouds she’s cre­ated (those other clouds aren’t shown). We’ll assume that she’s cre­ated other clouds for other focuses.
Fig­ure 9: A Sin­gle Tag Cloud

When a sec­ond per­son, Tag­ger 2, tags that same focus (again with a sub­set of the total set of all his tags), and some of those tags are the same as those used for this focus by Tag­ger 1, their indi­vid­ual tag clouds for this focus (shown by the dashed line in the cumu­la­tive tag cloud) con­nect via the com­mon tags, and the cumu­la­tive cloud grows. If any of the tags from their total sets are the same, but are not used for this focus, they form another con­nec­tion between the two tag­gers. Fig­ure 10 shows two indi­vid­ual clouds con­nected in both these ways.
Fig­ure 10: Two Con­nected Clouds

When a third tag­ger adds a third cloud with com­mon tags and unique tags around the same focus, the cumu­la­tive cloud grows, and the num­ber of both kinds of con­nec­tions between tags and tag­gers grows. Fig­ure 11 shows three con­nected clouds.
Fig­ure 11: Con­nected Clouds

Every tag cloud visu­al­izes a seman­tic field, and so the result of this bot­tom up growth is a series of inter­linked seman­tic fields cen­tered around a com­mon focus, as Fig­ure 12 shows. Since seman­tic fields are made of con­cepts, linked fields result in linked con­cepts.
Fig­ure 12: Con­nected Seman­tic Fields

The total num­ber and the vari­ety of kinds of inter­con­nec­tions amongst these three tag­gers, their tags, and a sin­gle focus is remark­able. As this sim­ple exam­ple shows, the total num­ber and den­sity of con­nec­tions link­ing even a mod­er­ate size pop­u­la­tion of tag­gers, tags, and focuses could quickly become very large. This increased scale dri­ves qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive topol­ogy changes in the net­work that per­mit a land­scape of mean­ing to emerge from con­nected seman­tic fields.
Land­scapes And Depth
The accu­mu­la­tion of con­nec­tions and con­cepts cre­ates a land­scape of mean­ing with real depth; but it’s the depth of a land­scape that dri­ves its value. For this dis­cus­sion, I’m defin­ing depth loosely as the amount of seman­tic infor­ma­tion or the den­sity of the seman­tic field either across the whole land­scape, or at a cho­sen point.
Value of course is a very sub­jec­tive judge­ment. In par­tic­i­pa­tory economies like that of del.icio.us, the value to indi­vid­ual users is pre­dom­i­nantly one of loosely struc­tured seman­tic exchange based on accu­mu­la­tion of col­lec­tive value through shared indi­vid­ual efforts. From a busi­ness view­point, a group of investors and yahoo as a buyer saw con­sid­er­able value in the emer­gent land­scape and / or other kinds of assets
To make the idea of depth a bit clearer, Fig­ure 13 illus­trates two views of a seman­tic land­scape built up by the over­lap of tag clouds. The aer­ial view shows the con­tents, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and over­lap of a num­ber of tag clouds around a set of focuses. The hori­zon view shows the depth of the seman­tic field for each focus, based on the amount of over­lap or con­nec­tion between the cloud around that focus and all the other clouds.
Fig­ure 13: Seman­tic Land­scape Depth Views

Of course this is only a con­cep­tual way of show­ing the cumu­la­tive seman­tic infor­ma­tion that makes up a land­scape of mean­ing, so it does not address the rel­a­tive value of this infor­ma­tion. Plainly some indi­ca­tion of the qual­ity of the seman­tic infor­ma­tion in a land­scape is crit­i­cal impor­tant to mea­sure­ments of both depth and value. Met­rics for qual­ity could come from a com­bi­na­tion of assess­ment of the diver­sity and gran­u­lar­ity of the tag pop­u­la­tion for the focus, bench­marks for the domain of the focus and tag­gers (health­care indus­try), and an esti­mate on the matu­rity of the domain, the focus, and the tag clouds in the seman­tic land­scape.
Look­ing ahead, it’s likely that accepted met­rics for defin­ing and describ­ing the depth, value, and char­ac­ter­is­tics of seman­tic fields and land­scapes will emerge as new com­bi­na­tions of some of the mea­sure­ments used now in the realms of cog­ni­tive lin­guis­tics, set the­ory, sys­tem the­ory, topol­ogy, infor­ma­tion the­ory, and quite a few other dis­ci­plines besides.
In Part Two
The sec­ond post in this series of two will fol­low sev­eral of the top­ics intro­duced here to con­clu­sion, as well as cover some new top­ics, including:

  • How chains of under­stand­ing shape needs for cloud con­text and nav­i­ga­tion paths
  • How the tag­ging tri­an­gle will define nav­i­ga­tion within land­scapes of meaning
  • The emer­gence of strat­i­fi­ca­tion in land­scapes of meaning
  • The idea that clouds and land­scapes have a shape which con­veys mean­ing and value
  • The kinds of con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion and con­trols nec­es­sary for nav­i­ga­tion and social exchanges

Watch­ing Nav­i­ga­tion Fol­low Chains of Under­stand­ing
I’ll close with a screen­cast put together by Jon Udell that cap­tures a wide rang­ing nav­i­ga­tion path through the del.icio.us landscape.

Comment » | Ideas, Tag Clouds

Scatterplots As Page Shapes?

March 1st, 2006 — 4:25pm

The Feb­ru­ary edi­tion of Usabil­ity News reports on a usabil­ity study (Where’s the Search? Re-examining User Expec­ta­tions of Web Objects) of user expec­ta­tions for Web page lay­outs that con­tains a sur­pris­ing but inter­est­ing visu­al­iza­tion of page shapes, based on quan­ti­ta­tive user research. (Note: I found the study via the UI Design Newslet­ter, from HFI.)
The study looks at users” expec­ta­tions for the loca­tion of com­mon web page com­po­nents, such as site search and adver­tis­ing. The authors find that expec­ta­tions for page lay­outs are largely the same now, as com­pared to those found in an ear­lier study, Devel­op­ing Schemas for the Loca­tion of Com­mon Web Objects, con­ducted in 2001.
More inter­est­ing is the way the researchers report their results; visu­al­iz­ing them as heat map style grid plots for the expected loca­tion of each ele­ment vs. a blank grid. Here’s two exam­ples, the first show­ing expected loca­tions for ‘back to home’ links, the sec­ond for the ‘site search engine’.
Fig­ure 1: Back to Home Link Loca­tion
Fig­ure 2: Site Search Engine Loca­tion
These heat maps look a lot like page shapes, expressed as scat­ter­plots.
I like the com­bi­na­tion of quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive per­spec­tives at work in these page shapes ren­dered as scat­ter­plots. I think it could allow for grounded dis­cus­sion and inter­pre­ta­tion of user feed­back on design options, within a clear and sim­ple struc­ture that doesn’t require an HCI degree to appre­ci­ate. If I try it out, I’ll share the out­comes.
In a more tra­di­tional style of visu­al­iza­tion, Eric Scheid found another another good exam­ple of page shapes a while back in Jonathon Boutelle’s post­ing on blog lay­outs called “Mullet”-style blog lay­out. Jonathon was advo­cat­ing for a new default blog page shape that increases infor­ma­tion den­sity and scent, but hews closely to pre-existing expec­ta­tions.
Fig­ure 3: Typ­i­cal Blog Page Shape
Fig­ure 4: Sug­gested Blog Page Shape
And that’s the last time I’m men­tion­ing m.u.l.l.e.t.s this year, lest Google get the wrong idea about the sub­ject mat­ter of this blog :)

2 comments » | Information Architecture, User Research

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
Fig­ure 6: Behav­ior Con­trols
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
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
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.
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
Fig­ure 2: last.fm
Fig­ure 3: tech­no­rati
Fig­ure 4: del.icio.us
Fig­ure 5: Ma.gnolia
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
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
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
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
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

The Aargh Page: Visualizing Pirate Argot

January 10th, 2006 — 1:13pm

What hap­pens when this clas­sic ver­nac­u­lar inter­jec­tion meets lin­guis­tics, data visu­al­iza­tion, and the Web?
The Aargh page, of course. (It should really be The Aargh! Page, but this is so fan­tas­tic that I can’t com­plain…)
Here’s a screen­shot of the graph that shows fre­quency of vari­ant spellings for aargh in Google, along two axes:
Note the snazzy mouseover effect, which I’ll zoom here:
Look­ing into the ori­gins aargh inevitably brings up Robert New­ton, the actor who played Long John Sil­ver in sev­eral Dis­ney pro­duc­tions based on the writ­ings of Robert Louis Steven­son. I remem­ber see­ing the movies as a child, with­out know­ing that they were the first live action Dis­ney movies broad­cast on tele­vi­sion. So do plenty of other peo­ple who’ve cre­ated trib­ute pages</>.
Aargh may have many spelling vari­a­tions, but at least three of them bear a stamp of legit­i­macy, as the edi­to­r­ial review of
The Offi­cial Scrab­ble Play­ers Dic­tio­nary (Paper­back) at Amazon.com explains, “If you’re using the 1991 edi­tion or the 1978 orig­i­nal, you’re woe­fully behind the Scrabble-playing times. With more than 100,000 2– to 8-letter words, there are some inter­est­ing addi­tions (“aargh,” “aar­rgh,” and “aar­rghh” are all legit­i­mate now), while words they con­sider offen­sive are no longer kosher. “
There’s even Inter­na­tional Talk Like A Pirate Day, cel­e­brated on Sep­tem­ber 19th every year. The orga­niz­ers’ site offers a nifty English-to-Pirate-Translator.
Most ran­dom per­haps is the Wikipedia link for Aargh the videogame, from the 80’s, with­out pirates.

Comment » | The Media Environment

OCLC WorldCat: Watching The Great Database In the Sky Grow

August 10th, 2005 — 9:06pm

On aver­age, a new record is added to the World­Cat data­base every 10 sec­onds. Watch it hap­pen live…” Watch World­Cat grow
Accord­ing to the About page:
“World­Cat is the world’s largest bib­li­o­graphic data­base, the merged cat­a­logs of thou­sands of OCLC mem­ber libraries. Built and main­tained col­lec­tively by librar­i­ans, World­Cat itself is not an OCLC ser­vice that is pur­chased, but rather pro­vides the foun­da­tion for many OCLC ser­vices and the ben­e­fits they pro­vide.“
Here’s what went into the sys­tem while I was typ­ing this entry out:
The fol­low­ing record was added to World­Cat on 08/10/2005 9:08 PM
Total hold­ings in World­Cat: 999,502,692
OCLC Num­ber: 61245112
Title: The­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural stud­ies in honor of Simon John De Vries /
Pub­lisher: T. & T. Clark Inter­na­tional,
Pub­li­ca­tion Date: c2004.
Lan­guage: Eng­lish
For­mat: Book
Some impres­sive World­Cat sta­tis­tics from the OCLC site:
Between July 2004 and June 2005:

  • World­Cat grew by 4.6 mil­lion records
  • Libraries used World­Cat to cat­a­log and set hold­ings for 51.9 mil­lion items and arrange 9.4 mil­lion inter­li­brary loans
  • Library staff and users con­ducted 34.7 mil­lion searches of World­Cat via First­Search for research and ref­er­ence, and to locate materials


  • World­Cat has 57,968,788 unique bib­li­o­graphic records
  • 53,548 par­tic­i­pat­ing libraries world­wide use and con­tribute to WorldCat
  • Every 10 sec­onds an OCLC mem­ber library adds a record to WorldCat
  • Every 4 sec­onds an OCLC mem­ber library fills an inter­li­brary loan request using WorldCat
  • Every sec­ond a library user searches World­Cat using FirstSearch

For us infor­ma­tion types, it beats the hell out of the old pop­u­la­tion clocks that the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau still runs for the US and the world.
BTW, for the curi­ous, “Accord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of the Cen­sus, the res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion of the United States, pro­jected to 08÷11÷05 at 01:24 GMT (EST+5) is 296,854,475″

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New Web Service for Sparklines

June 27th, 2005 — 3:57pm

From some­one else named Joe, a free ser­vice that gen­er­ates sparklines:


Now I can plot the truly dis­at­is­fy­ing long-term per­for­mance of my 401ks using a con­ve­nient net­worked infra­struc­ture service…

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Revisiting Tufte - 5 Years On

August 10th, 2004 — 7:23pm

I first saw Edward Tufte deliver his well-known sem­i­nar Pre­sent­ing Data and Infor­ma­tion in the heady sum­mer days of ’99. At the time, I was work­ing for a small inter­ac­tive agency in down­town Boston. I’d heard about Tufte’s sem­i­nar from a for­mer col­league, and was eager to learn more about Infor­ma­tion Design, user inter­faces, and what­ever else was rel­e­vant to cre­at­ing user expe­ri­ences and infor­ma­tion spaces. Tufte’s sem­i­nars also seemed to tap into some sort of trans­for­ma­tional mojo; the per­son I was work­ing with went in as a Web Devel­oper, and came back a Usabil­ity Spe­cial­ist. The logic of this still escapes me, since I haven’t heard the esteemed Pro­fes­sor men­tion usabil­ity, let alone lec­ture on it yet: I think it’s more a good les­son in how des­per­ate Seth was to escape writ­ing HTML.
But I’m get­ting away from the point.
In ’99, Tufte deliv­ered a solid and suc­cinct ground­ing in Infor­ma­tion Design his­tory and prin­ci­ples, sup­ported by fre­quent ref­er­ences to his gor­geous self-published titles. Bravo.
He promptly fol­lowed this with a short seg­ment on “The Web”, which was mostly irrel­e­vant, and wholly behind the times. Pro­fes­sor Tufte’s chief gripes at the time included exces­sive use of chrome on but­tons, bul­leted lists, and unfor­mat­ted tables. He was mired in recount­ing the fail­ings of HTML 2.0. Out­side, it was 1999. But in the lec­ture hall, it felt more like 1996… I was embar­rassed to see an old mas­ter danc­ing poorly to new music.
For­ward five years, and now clients are ask­ing me to attend Pro­fes­sor Tufte’s pre­sen­ta­tion in New York, again in the sum­mer. I expected to be severely dis­ap­pointed; if Tufte was this far behind when there wasn’t much his­tory in the first place, then it could only have got­ten worse.
And so I was pleas­antly sur­prised. The Infor­ma­tion Design show­case was like refresh­ing cool rain after too much time using low-fidelity chart­ing appli­ca­tions. But what really caught my ears was his ready embrace of core Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture lan­guage and out­look. Dr. Tufte is hip to IA now. He even gave us some good home­work: the ses­sion hand­out lists 11 clas­sics of 20th cen­tury Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture — on page 2, right after the day’s agenda.
Yes, his piece on the Web was still a bit behind — sta­tic nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems and generic cor­po­rate mar­ket­ing site IA aren’t exactly cut­ting edge top­ics, and it’s hardly open-minded to say that there’s no rea­son for hav­ing more than a sin­gle nav­i­ga­tion bar at the top of a page — but at least it was behind in the right direc­tion.
And it was still nice out­side.
Kudos to the old mas­ter for pick­ing bet­ter music.
And for being canny enough to know that it’s good for busi­ness to encour­age evey­rone to take notes, but not pro­vide note paper in the regstra­tion packet — its for sale of course at the back of the hall…

1 comment » | Information Architecture, People

Traces of Fire

May 26th, 2004 — 9:55pm

Traces of Fire is an art exhibit and social exper­i­ment that used wildlife-tracking teleme­try to trace the move­ments of ten cig­a­rette lighters ‘lost’ in famous pubs in Lim­er­ick. The lighters were car­ried around Lim­er­ick by unknown peo­ple, as trans­mit­ters relayed loca­tion and motion data to observ­ing artists for nearly two weeks. From the cumu­la­tive data, the artists built a series of exhi­bi­tions show­ing pat­terns in the loca­tions and move­ments of the lighters around the city.

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Do You Want to Rock - in ASCII?

September 5th, 2003 — 10:36am

C404 — an art/media group — brings you music icons includ­ing The Sex Pis­tols, Hen­drix, AC/DC, and Van Halen per­form­ing live in videos ren­dered in Wachowski-style cas­cades of glow­ing ASCII text.
I cre­ate cat­e­gories pro­fes­sion­ally, which means it’s almost inevitable that I’m inter­ested in things that chal­lenge and escape cat­e­gories (the “mind forg’d man­a­cles” Blake labelled so well) by their nature.
Though I’m sure this will appear in an over-miked com­mer­cial for tooth­paste or pick-up trucks soon, at the moment it’s a new way of look­ing at sev­eral very famil­iar cul­tural prop­er­ties that ques­tions the thresh­olds of recog­ni­tion, per­cpetion, and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion we rely on every day.

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