information architecture · interaction design · usability · web 2.0

Googlecloud review (has anyone done usability testing on tag clouds yet?)

So, today I checked out Googlecloud which I saw via Ajaxian and which was released by the crew at Trade This. (phew! that’s my linking karma for the day!)

My first impression was not great. This was what I saw:

It got me thinking back to the Go Flock Yourself post in my daily links from yesterday regarding the evils (or really, the lack of usability) of tag clouds. I’m not concerned with purity of the representation in terms of font size, but in this case, the links that I’m actually interested in are going to be so small as to be virtually invisible… and I don’t even know if they’re there. This zeitgeist, who favour Britney Spears just over Linux Desktop, isn’t really much use to me.

But then…

… then suddenly I started liking GoogleCloud a lot when I reaslised that you can make your own search cloud. Suddenly things get a whole lot more interesting. Before you know it, my search cloud starts looking more like this:

Now I’m interested! Now I have a useful tool.
I’d be even more interested if I had a cloud like this of search terms (and resultant delicious links?) that the people working on the same project as me have been making. And to see/participate in the search cloud for a community of practice of interface designers or user experience practitioners.

Why is a cloud like this potentially useful?

Well, first up, it can potentially provide you with a shortcut to forming and typing your search query. This is a minor efficiency, granted, given that search forms in browsers make it pretty easy going already – it certainly does reduce the mental load of formulating a search term… but is this something that the average person finds particularly taxing? Are we all pretty much down with search engines now? (I’m thinking of my closest circle of friends and immediately I know that’s a terribly flawed assumption!) So, perhaps for less sophisticated search users, a cloud populated with data that is relevant to them would be a very helpful tool.

Has anyone done any user testing with tag clouds? I think I’m going to have some coming up in the not too distant future, but I’d be fascinated to know what results exist to date, if any.

Returning to my original train of thought – why is this useful?

Personally, I’d find it particularly useful within the context of a ‘community of practice’ where there are people with common interests engaging with similar types of content. Being able to see what other people are thinking, what they’re interested in being outputted as a tag cloud would be a great resource I suspect. Perhaps the interactivity of the ‘tag’ could be extended to show who within your community is making those queries, what results they’ve saved… or would that dilute the simplicity of the interface too much?

Of course, you’d also want to find a way to ‘exclude’ certain searches from the cloud as well. There’s only so much you need to know about your community!

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