Tag Cloud Usage

Garrick Schmitt from Avenue A | Razorfish is giving a presentation at the IA Summit called “Do People Really Use Tag Clouds.” See the description in Summit program or the slides for the presentation on SlideShare.

Seems like much of the presentation is based on a survey they did of 475 Americans about their use of Web 2.0 features and artifacts, like wikis and such. See their Digital Consumer Behavior Study.

The thing that caught my eye was the statistic on use of tab clouds (which gives the presentation its name, obviously). 65% of those surveyed reported never having used a tag cloud, and 23% using them only once in a while. (12% use them more frequently).

Interestingly, those numbers change when asked, Do you find tag clouds helpful? Here, 39% said never, 29% once in a while, 24% most of the time, and 7% all of the time.

This mirrors a claim I made in Designing Web Navigation (Chapter 3):

“As a navigational mechanism, tag clouds seem to have limited value. If a visitor has a known information need, for instance, a cloud of links isn’t really efficient. They seem to be more of a novelty than an effective navigation mechanism. But the visual weighting of links provides valuable information: it shows at a glance what others are talking about or about the concerns of a community. Tag clouds reflect a certain zeitgeist for a site or topic.”

I was glad to come across some data that supports my claim.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. thanks for sharing, James. As for the question about tag clouds being useful, a good follow-up would have been to ask people what they perceive the value to be. I recently had a conversation wherein the relevance of the sizes of the tags wasn’t well-known. For some people, it denoted the number of times the tags had been clicked, for others, it offered insight into the number of elements tagged with that tag. For still others, it was correlated with the popularity of the tag in general (not specific to the site they were on).

  2. James Kalbach

    I’m pretty sure that the average web surfer doesn’t know that the larger items in a tag cloud indicate that tag was used more often than the smaller items.

    I’m going to also predict that tag clouds will slowly fad out of existence.

  3. Wesley Dumont

    I know what I’d like – Usage Clouds for repeat visits to websites.
    So, every time I revisit a sites homepage, the links I visit are clouded(?) and are larger and more easy to find.
    Like MLB link on Google News.
    Go Mets!

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