Tag clouds as a research object

On: January 9, 2007
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About Anne Helmond
Anne Helmond is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture and Program Director of the MA New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative research collective where she focuses her research on the infrastructure of social media platforms and apps. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, infrastructure studies and web history.


TagcloudTag clouds are a nice way to visualize the content tags of a website. Flickr started this trend when they displayed a “All-time most popular tags” tag cloud on their front page. The size of the tags in the tag cloud is usually relative (more frequently used tags are displayed in a larger font). In this way you can quickly see what is hot and what is not on a webpage.

But when you add the dimension of time things get really interesting. You can actually map out shifts in tag usage. Chirag Meta created a Tagline Generator “that lets you generate chronological tag clouds from simple text data sources without manually tagging the data entries.” Two nice applications of this generator are:

  1. US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud
    You can see a shift from “welfare” to “terrorism”
  2. Microsoft’s evolution, in keywords
  3. The word “computer” is disappearing, interesting!

It might be nice if you could focus on one word, or a set of related words, so you could follow a certain trend. What else can we do with tagclouds (except making a t-shirt out of it of course)?

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