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George Roberts :: Blog :: Tag clouds

March 23, 2008

Tag clouds and folksonomies do not just happen. They are made by users of platforms that have a social bookmarking facility.

Tag clouds are made in Elgg (our platform) by adding "keywords" to your blogs and other items in the system such as your "interests", "likes" and "dislikes" in your profile, and to the files you upload to your file-store area. Elgg generates a tag cloud using an algorithm that, as I understand it, is based on: the number of items tagged with the keyword, the number of times a keyword is clicked on and the recentness with which the keyword was added.

The tag cloud on the Emerge home page is a subset of a larger cloud that can be found by clicking on the [Tag cloud] link in the upper right area of the screen below the "Browse" field. The tag cloud on the Emerge home page has always been idiosyncratic because as a community we have not adopted a habit of tagging our entries with any consistency. Because, further to Lawrie's post, I have been exploring tagging and our tag cloud you will see that, at the moment, far too many of the tags in the cloud on the home page link back to my posts. This raises three questions, at this point.

The first question has to do with other people not using available tags. I know many people in the community have written posts on the topic of communities of practice. But very few authors have tagged their posts with the term "community of practice" (or "CoP" or simply "community"). This means that the tag cloud could give the impression that very few of us are writing or thinking about this key topic. Similarly, another topic that I might expect to see appear with greater frequency in our tag cloud is "users" (or "user centred" or "UIDM). I know that many people in the Emerge community have written about user-centred design, user-centred development and user communities, but this is not as evident as we might expect from our emerging folksonomy. So, when you write a post, think of tagging it with one of the popular - but relevant, of course Wink - tags that have already been used. This will help make your post more visible.

The second question has to do with people not creating and using tags for their projects. You could create a project tag and then tag your posts about the project with that tag. You should also tag your project profile "interests" with that tag and any project files or pictures that you upload to the site. The more items you tag, the more visible that tag will be. There are a lot of new projects and perople are writing about them. But very few are visible through the tag cloud. So, get tagging your projects. As a corrollary to this social action is the possibility of using the same tag in one of the wider social bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us. or Diigo. Here for example is a search on del.icio.us for UIDM.

The third question has to do with the maintenance of our tag cloud and how it is presented to the world. This is trickier because it requires some moderation and Elgg, like all social bookmarking facilities has its idiosyncracies. For example clicking on the [Tag cloud] link in the upper right of the screen produces a pseudo random selection of about 100 tags in no particular order. Frequency is indicated by font size. I think (but do not know) that the idea is to promote serendipity. For me this does not work. I find it annoying. Click once get one list. Click again, get another, different list. Similarly, the mini tag cloud on the home page is weighted towards the more recently used and frequently hit tags. This can create a self fulfilling situation. Because it is at the top of the home page the links are going to be hit, therefore they are going to be popular therefore they are going to stay at the top of the home page whether or not they are really relevant to the community. So I have asked Joe Rosa to look into modifying the presentation of the tag cloud to increase our community members' visibility through the platform.

Let me sign off by asking all people in the community to start making greater use of tags when they put items on the system.



Posted by George Roberts

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