3D Tag Clouds

The 3D tag cloud isn’t new, but I came across one in real life on a Sydney tours site. WordPress has been offering a 3D tag cloud for a while now, developed by Roy Tanck.

I’m not a huge fan of tag clouds as a navigation mechanism in general. They’ll probably prove to be a fad and will date the current generation of web sites. Sure, tag cloud provide a certain zeitgeist-effect and give a quick overivew. But as a navigation mechanism, tag clouds are pretty lousy.

The 3D tag cloud was fun to play with, but I don’t think it will revolutionize tag navigation in any way.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. Hi Jim,
    I do have a different opinion on tagging and tag clouds. I think they have the potential to make a significant difference in clustering information. Is is an fairly easy way to create a navigation structures through one’s own content. Check_ http://delicious.com/tags.mprove/tagging
    Regarding the 3D clounds I am with you. They are at most… fancy. But then they should be full screen to be also delightful and invite to play.

  2. James Kalbach

    Thanks, Matthias.

    Just to be clear: I’m not at all against tagging. In fact, I think
    there’s a lot of potential there we’re just beginning to uncover.
    Tagging is metadata, and that’s a Good Thing.

    It’s the representation of tagging (i.e. metadata) in a tag cloud that
    I feel is weak. There are ways other than at tag cloud to represent
    and leverage tagging.

    In other words tagging != tag clouds. Tagging is much bigger than just
    tag clouds, which I feel are limiting and a just a trend anyway.


  3. Jonathan

    “I’m not a huge fan of tag clouds as a navigation mechanism in general”

    You’re not the only one to say that, but it astounds me why anyone would think they should be a “navigation system” in the first place. It’s like saying you’re not a fan of tabs as a search mechanism.

    Tag clouds are very good at doing a very specific thing: delivering an extremely fast, broad summary of a large amount to textual information. Nothing more. What makes you think they are about navigation?

    Granted, they often get *used* for navigation, but that’s just because people are stupid (and why interaction designers have jobs). It does not detract from the fact that tag clouds can be a very useful tool.

  4. James Kalbach


    First, just to be clear I referred to tag clouds as a navigation mechanism, not a system. A mechanism is a cohesive set of links that allow users to navigate content. Second, designers employ tag coulds as navigation: they intend for people to click on the links. So tag clouds are a type of navigation mechanism.

    I agree that tag clouds give a quick picture of a text space–they show priority, frequency, and certain zeitgeist. I just don’t think they get people from A to B very well. Again, when you here business people talk and even other designers, “tag cloud” comes up more and more these days as way to provide navigation.

    So it’s the way they get used in practice that makes me think that other think they are a good way to navigate.

  5. Hi Jonathan_
    it does not help if you call people stupid who create/have/use tag clouds as a navigation element. As soon as each tag is an active hyperlink you have a navigation — if you want it or not. With respect to the analytical aspects of tag clouds I want to point out that it might be fast to display and read them, but the creation of the tag data takes quite some time and effort. Wordle might be the only exception.

  6. Jim said, “There are ways other than at tag cloud to represent
    and leverage tagging.”
    Now that’s interesting. Can you please give a few examples?
    I can envision a classical menu navigation based on tag data, updated dynamically when tagging continues. But I am in doubt that such an approach is superior to a manually designed menu/navigation structure.

  7. James Kalbach

    Search and search clustering is one common way to use tag metadata. Other folks are looking at the semantic analysis of tagging, specificially at things like co-occurance to generate recommendations and such.

    In terms of displaying tags, what’s wrong with a simple list in descreasing order of magnitude? LibraryThing does this on its Zeitgeist page: http://www.librarything.com/zeitgeist (see middle right).

    I think Etsy is doing something interesting with its tags to generate the local navigation on the site. That’s how you get “Gother Candle Holders”: http://www.etsy.com/category/candles/holder/gothic
    Note that this is what *I think* but I’m not 100% sure–if any one knows exactly, let me know.

    The point is:
    Tagging != Tag Cloud

    …but rather:
    Tagging = Metadata
    Tag Clouds = Just one representation and use of that metadata.

  8. 3D Tag Clouds may not be a revolutionary navigation tool, but I think it offers an eye-opening suggestion in ways we can present this, other than the usual, plain representation. Tag clouds are just helpful alternatives to the general search box.

    I would say that the 3D clouds may not work well for the more mature audiences or when there are hundreds of tags, as there would be too much cluster, depending on its size in the sidebar. In that case then it would be better to display as plain text as that is easier to read through.

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