Tag clouds, distractions, purposes

25 Jan 2007 - 10:16am
7 years ago
1 reply
735 reads
DrWex
2006

The comment about tag clouds being distracting reminded me of this
recent cartoon:
http://xkcd.com/c214.html

A point I'd like to add here is that we ought to consider a number of
different possible goals. For a person, say a shopper, who wants to
find and purchase a known product quickly this cloud technology isn't
necessarily the best. However, other people may have other goals
related to the same page. The marketer may have a goal of exposing
the site's variety of offerings. The casual shopper may have a goal
of finding a gift for someone but not knowing exactly what to buy.

I'm also reminded here of the experiments that CNET is using in
augmenting news browsing. For a while they were using area maps that
looked similar to research work Ben Shneiderman's group did in the
early 90s. I just went to a random story on the site
(http://news.com.com/HP+accused+of+spying+on+Dells+printer+plans/2100-1014_3-6153158.html?tag=nefd.lede)
and I see they have a new applet, which is more graphical and
interactive (actually it's Flash so not technically an applet).

Clearly one of CNET's goals is to deliver the news story I asked for
in a timely and effective fashion. They want to keep me coming back
to them for news and build their reputation as a good and reliable
supplier. However, they also seem to be exploring goals of using
information visualization techniques - and here I'm guessing - to keep
people exploring on their site. There's no doubt that many people
such as myself will find an interactive graph visualization more
enticing than a simple text list of story headlines/summaries.

To close this out, I'd say that these arguments apply to questions of
whether or not to use tag clouds as well.

--
--Alan Wexelblat

Comments

27 Jan 2007 - 11:24am
Joe Lamantia
2007

Alan,

Thanks for making a great point, that needs to be voiced clearly and
without qualification. It is essential for all parties involved in
designing an experience to understand the complete spectrum of goals
held by all audiences / users / owners when making decisions about
the experience.

This absolutely applies to the question of when and where and for
whom tag clouds make sense. Yet as all of us who do design for a
living know, the decision about what to include in any design often
falls outside our responsibilities.

In the case of tag clouds, this means clouds are frequently employed
for the wrong reasons, and in the wrong places. These situations are
examples of unbalanced design processes that do not adequately
reconcile the different and conflicting goals of the various
parties. When marketing wants a tag cloud because they believe
including a cloud satisfies their goals, and design knows that users
need a balanced portfolio of finding tools that allows them to
achieve their goals, the design process should expose and resolve all
these conflicting goals early on.

Before the usability group has to report unpleasant test results,
gathered from unhappy users, confused by a misplaced tag cloud (or
search box, or other user experience component).

To this point I was drawn in by the CNET experiments as well - a good
example of well-matched goals and experiences.

Cheers,
Joe Lamantia

On Jan 25, 2007, at 10:16 AM, Alan Wexelblat wrote:

> The comment about tag clouds being distracting reminded me of this
> recent cartoon:
> http://xkcd.com/c214.html
>
> A point I'd like to add here is that we ought to consider a number of
> different possible goals. For a person, say a shopper, who wants to
> find and purchase a known product quickly this cloud technology isn't
> necessarily the best. However, other people may have other goals
> related to the same page. The marketer may have a goal of exposing
> the site's variety of offerings. The casual shopper may have a goal
> of finding a gift for someone but not knowing exactly what to buy.
>
> I'm also reminded here of the experiments that CNET is using in
> augmenting news browsing. For a while they were using area maps that
> looked similar to research work Ben Shneiderman's group did in the
> early 90s. I just went to a random story on the site
> (http://news.com.com/HP+accused+of+spying+on+Dells+printer+plans/
> 2100-1014_3-6153158.html?tag=nefd.lede)
> and I see they have a new applet, which is more graphical and
> interactive (actually it's Flash so not technically an applet).
>
> Clearly one of CNET's goals is to deliver the news story I asked for
> in a timely and effective fashion. They want to keep me coming back
> to them for news and build their reputation as a good and reliable
> supplier. However, they also seem to be exploring goals of using
> information visualization techniques - and here I'm guessing - to keep
> people exploring on their site. There's no doubt that many people
> such as myself will find an interactive graph visualization more
> enticing than a simple text list of story headlines/summaries.
>
> To close this out, I'd say that these arguments apply to questions of
> whether or not to use tag clouds as well.
>
> --
> --Alan Wexelblat
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joe at joelamantia.com | www.joelamantia.com

"...seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the
inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

Italo Calvino -- Invisible Cities

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