The tag-cloud replaces the basic menu – Is this a good idea?

tagcloud menu I knew someone or the other was going to do this – its too obvious an idea. “Lets try replacing all site navigation with a tag cloud!”. I just came across this on the FlockSucks website – its by a company called 83 degrees – you can tell from their name that they go in for all things hip and Web2.0.

I have my own opinion on the topic, but am going to wait till you express yours. What do you think? is this a good idea? Is this the future?

As a note, even del.icio.us and flickr have a basic website perma-navigation. del.icio.us navigation

19 thoughts on “The tag-cloud replaces the basic menu – Is this a good idea?

  1. The future? God, I hope not.

    This is just lazy fad-chasing. Tag clouds are nice for providing an overview of the content of a site, but as far as navigational metaphors go… yikes. It’s not structured in the least, and it’s basically just a hard-to-read sitemap, neutered of any additional information. Not to mention the fact that most of their items are just web2.0 buzzwords with no content behind them…

    In short, a tag cloud is to site navigation as a sparkline is to a real graph. They’re useful, but they’re not a panacea.

  2. My feelings exactly. I think a Tag cloud is too dynamic to serve as basic navigation which needs to be a little more permanent and let users build up a mental model of the space.

    But I wonder if there was ways of enhancing a perma-navigatoin with some tagcloud thinking. Could a menu have differing font-sizes based on how often something was being used. Are there other design improvements one can think of that borrow from tag-clouds?

  3. Narendra and Julie seem to be quite popular menu options.

    I’m not sure putting the tag UI to menus makes any sense. Changing the font-size based on popularity of an option isn’t really going to help anything, but may make it worse. Menu options should be of equal priority. There are few enough for the user to choose what he wants, and not what everyone else wants.

    A tagcloud like UI for categories or folders may be better, but not for menus.

  4. One of the problems with using a tag cloud as a navigational device is that they really only work for sites with rapidly changing, dynamic content. For a blog, or for a content-driven site like Flickr, a tag cloud provides a Gestalt for the entirety of the content.

    If the content is relatively static, however–like the site in question–a dynamic navigational device requires the user to hit a moving target. A single Digg article could radically skew the navigational device, for example, putting some small piece of trivia front and center (and overshadowing the actual meat and potatoes of the site). The user has to come up with a mental model of the site which accounts for all the other users’ actions as well. That’s putting distance between the user and her goal, especially if her goal isn’t what most users do.

    One trick I’ve seen in a few blogs (mostly Typo based) is to have the categories menu be a horizontally-oriented bar graph, based on post volume. For static sites, however, I think the best way to highlight popular content is inside the content itself: the front page.

  5. Its a good gimmick to attract publicity. In my opinion, tags can enhance or augment the traditional hierarchial navigation structures but can never replace them. Even in flickr, tags are just one way to find stuff.

    Fixed taxonomies are better suited when content can be well classified into different categories -which is the case for most non-“user-content” driven sites.

  6. Rashmi,

    I designed the page :-)

    I am gererally not a fan of tag clouds at all because they quickly become too cluttered. In this case it was done as a design/marketing effort and not at all for UI. It turns out there are very few options for our corporate site, so it is relatively uncluttered and encourages discovery.

    Other thoughts…tagging to generate folksonomy is marginally useful, another way of depicting data. With our new 30 Boxes product, we are using tagging as a way to segment for sharing and security.

  7. Ah! the designer speaks up. Narendra, thanks for dropping by. If it was done for marketing purposes, then you could say it served the purpose since it generated conversation at least. How many website menus do that?

    What’s with the empty links though? For example, javascript, ajax etc.

    Also, I think your tag cloud reveals what the company is about (the empty links) better than a menu does. Not sure if it will encourage discovery more than a menu – curious why you think it does.

    I have not seen 30 boxes yet, but have been meaning to check it out. Yes, tagging is definitely a good way to understand what content people want to share / not share.

  8. Coda,

    Can you link to one of those Typo based blogs that have a horizontally oriented bar graph as a menu. Thanks.

  9. ooh! I’ve been thinking a bit about tag clouds lately and if/when they’re useful. Glad to see you all talking about it here.

    I really like the idea of tag clouds in some respects. I like the serendipity that can occur when you happen upon a site and don’t really know what you might want to explore. It really can open up the content on a site quite beautifully. But, how often is this the case? Only occasionally, I’d wager.

    Also, if you use tag clouds to facilitate this effect, then it only works to a certain scale. I was thinking about this when playing with the recently released GoogleCloud interface. When its capturing everyones search terms, its useless to me – when its just me and ‘likeminded people’ it is interesting and useful. So, context is important.

    I have to agree with everyone who has said that a tag cloud doesn’t work as the sole navigational system… the only exception to this might be something like Flickr, which is largely serendipitous I guess (although, its also augmented by powerful tag searching functionality).

  10. I am rather new (read: old fashioned) in regards of to the new fad – tag clouds. I get the concept and I understand it can be useful. But the times they actually have been useful to me are less than zero. Ok, I have used it some times but only in the spirits of voyerism “Oh, look – this guy likes this too.”

    I certainly hope they will disappear since they take too much space and mostly afflict damage to the usability.
    So, is it the future? Let’s hope not.

  11. I’m not sure that cloud tags could ever replace formal navigation – for all the reasons that others have pointed out.

    I’m just experimenting with tags in my blogs (using Ultimate tag warrior with WordPress), and I’m moving away from the sized options. I quite like the idea of tagging, though currently getting in a muddle between tagging & categorising, which is another matter!

    However, tags clouds as navigation – possibly on sites that focus just on current interest, but in general, no thanks!

  12. I think tags can be useful (sites like del.icio.us prove that to me on a daily basis) but in a site menu? And is the relative size of a menu item driven by the amount of clicks, or some other mechanism?

    In this particular instance I don’t see the benefit, and I can see many potential drawbacks (negative feedback loops obscuring important menu items etc).

    After reading the designer’s rather fuzzy comment I’ve settled on ‘riding the gravy train’ as primary motivation behind the design. But then again, I’ve never liked marketeers, and having them meddle with your UI design is not the smartest move in my book. Have them think up the pretty colors, or fonts, or something :P

  13. I’m not sure from Narendra’s comment and from looking at the site itself if it really is a tag cloud. It seems more like an illustration of a tag cloud, hence the dead links. However, I agree with Rashmi, that in this case, the limited dictionary of “Web 2.0” buzzwords gives a visitor an at-a-glance indication of what the company is about — much more effectively than a mission statement or an “About Us” page could.

  14. I simply do not find the cloud tags user friendly. We all have time. We do not have too much of it. People do not have time to look at a screen of words. I wish we had more time. Most don’t. Those that do pretend that they don’t have enough of it.

    difficult to use, navigate and generally figure out in six seconds. nope. It is not the wave of the future. I like much of what the new collaborative web is doing, but this is not it.

  15. Hi Rashmi,

    I noticed your question earlier :

    “But I wonder if there was ways of enhancing a perma-navigatoin with some tagcloud thinking. Could a menu have differing font-sizes based on how often something was being used. Are there other design improvements one can think of that borrow from tag-clouds?”

    Something like this was implemented in the UK some time ago by the BBC, though i’m not sure if it’s still the case. They had their front-page navigation split into panes by category, and categories that were clicked more often changed background colour.

    So for example a pale beige background for the “Sport” section would gradually become a deeper brown or red over time, to indicate your preference for this category. It seems like a really good, and generally unobtrusive, way to indicate preferred choices.

  16. I think a good solution would be a tag cloud which dynamically updates when you click a tag, to show the weighting of related tags, and also with a bread crumb.

  17. ilewqkttlvpkjyjbwell, hi admin adn people nice forum indeed. how’s life? hope it’s introduce branch ;)

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