I don’t like tag clouds. Not in the way they’re usually implemented anyway. They are dull and ugly, really nothing more than a list of words of varying sizes. And yet, properly designed, they can be great infographics – beautiful and informative at the same time.
I discovered Wordle a few weeks ago and I found it fun for doing a little literary analysis, or comparing the spin on the news from different news sites (say Fox vs. CNN.) Still, I was unhappy with its lack of flexibility and options – not to mention that’s not a real, interactive tag cloud.
Then I heard about Tagul. Tagul is a free (for now) service created by a 27 years old russian named Alex. Both the generator and the interactive cloud itself are written in Flash (as opposed to Java for the Wordle generator, which produces an image) and every little aspect is customizable.
Tagul, like Wordle, accepts plain text or an URL, supports multiple fonts inside the same tag, customizable angles for the words, stemming, customizable colors and much more.
What I particularly like is that you can specify the cloud shape – it can be a rectangle of with a specified aspect ratio, a circle, a heart or… a cloud. And you get to choose the tag url, the URL that’s loaded when you click on a tag. For example
http://www.google.com/search?&q=$tag will search google for the selected tag/keyword. This way you can integrate a generated tag in your blog with incredible ease.
As for downsides, the only thing I can think of is that it does not have a list of common words to ignore. It does have a ‘blacklist’ option so I guess it’s only a matter of time until common words are filtered by default.
The author is upfront that he intends to monetize it sometimes in the future. I am not very fond of the whole software-as-a-service strategy (one of the reasons I don’t use Typekit although I like some of their “premium” fonts) because each such service introduces another point of failure, but I am seriously thinking of adding Tagul to RichNetApps and Twin Pixels blogs.
Just for fun, here’s a tag cloud generated based on the first chapter of Brave New World:
Tagxedo – the Silverlight alternative
Another similar service is Tagxedo. It has a nice, uncluttered interface and it supports custom shapes. It doesn’t look quite finished yet but I think it has potential. It’s also one of the very few Silverlight apps I’ve seen.
One powerful feature is the ability to load an arbitrary bitmap to be used as a shape – or a word written with any font. It also has versioning support and it seems pretty fast too!
Here’s a sample cloud:
Overall, I’d say Tagxedo is better engineered than Tagul although it still feels like a work in progress. The only downside I can see is that Silverlight is nowhere near as popular as Flash, so if you embed the cloud in your page, most visitors will not see it.