Tell Me About... Tags and Tag Clouds

Tags are the hip new thing because they are a practical solution to categorizing information and data. This article explains tags, tag clouds, taxonomy and discusses ways in which they are being used by Web services across the Internet.
Published: May 29, 2006
Author: Stacy Reed

Tell Me About... Tags and Tag Clouds

by Stacy Reed

Tags are the hip new thing. After RSS feeds, tagging is my favorite characteristic of the Web 2.0 explosion simply because it is such a practical solution to categorizing information and data. Tags are being used all over the Internet in a variety of different ways. Site's like del.icio.us, and Simpy, and BlinkList allow users to generate their own tags when they save bookmarks. Not only does this make it easier for each user to search their own bookmarks, but it also benefits the members of the community who search for the shared bookmarks submitted by other members. This method of open categorization is often referred to as folksonomy.

Here's an example: Let's say I am browsing the web and come across a sculptor's site I want to bookmark using my BlinkList account. I am prompted to enter tags into a field so I choose relevant words like "art," "sculptor," "artist," "sculpting" and so forth. Like most Web 2.0 sites, BlinkList allows you to choose whether or not you want to share your data or keep it private. I choose to share this bookmark so if another BlinkList member comes along and searches for one of those tags, the search results will include the site I just submitted among the list of bookmarks others have shared using that tag. The user can see how many people have tagged each site and which ones are most popular. Furthermore, if they liked the site I tagged, they can take a look at the other tagged sites I have shared to see if there is anything else that might interest them. As you can see, folksonomy takes the task of creating keywords for content away from the site administrator(s) and puts it where it belongs, in the hands of the people who actually do the searching, the users!

In other instances, tags are compiled in tag clouds which are used to sort content such as articles or images on a news site or a blog. Tag clouds are becoming very popular these days. Traditionally known as weighted lists tag clouds are visual representations of a website's content that can be viewed at a glance. They consist of tags that are generally derived from the content; sometimes the content and the tags are both generated by the user-base. In most tag clouds, you'll find the most frequently used tags show up in a larger or bolder font in the alphabetical list of tags so you can see which topics are most popular. For instance, at Newzingo the tag cloud represents the most popular news articles listed by Google News. The more stories there are about a certain topic, the bigger the tag will show up in the tag cloud.

When a tag cloud is incorporated into a blog, it will reflect the article content within that blog. Likewise, when a tag cloud is used in a community, it will reflect the shared content within that community, whether it be photographs (Flickr) books (LibraryThing) or even upcoming events (Upcoming.org). Sites like 30Boxes allow users to tag events and each tag can be customized to show up as different colors in the calendar.

These are just a few examples of how tags can be employed. People keep finding innovative new ways of using folksonomy to improve the ways we search, track and share data.

Learn more about tag clouds and folksonomy:

Creating your own tag cloud:

About Stacy Reed

Stacy Reed is Tucows' resident software librarian and editor. She has been reviewing PC and mobile software as well as web services for over a decade. Helping developers improve and promote their products is only one of her areas of expertise. Stacy is also an advocate for Open Source, Creative Commons and freeware, taking special interest in educational resources, social media, cloud sharing, and mobile technology.

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