case studies · user experience · web 2.0

tag cloud interface for list selection (hello Jobby!)


Via TechCrunch today I came across a new beta site – Jobby. This is a site that allows you to upload your resume and create a bit of a personal profile (if you’re hunting down work), or if you’re a potential employer, to search for suitable talent.

There’s nothing particularly special about that but – as Michael Arrington points out – the interface is worth a second look, if you’re into that kind of thing. Michael says:

The interface is exceptional and you don’t have to do more than click a couple of times on a tag cloud to set up tags. You’ll have to try it to fully understand how it works.

I think that might be a *bit* of an overstatement, but it certainly is a *very* efficient implementation of the ‘tag cloud’ as a interaction device, in this case, for creating lists.

Ajaxian is similarly impressed and says that Jobby:

combines a solid combination of interface and functionality to create an easy to use kind of user experience

The interface designers at Jobby do need to be congratulated for taking a new ‘web 2.0’ interaction concept that has been poorly implemented in so many places, and applying it in a new environment where it solves old interaction design problems. So, let’s check it out…

Creating an interface that encourages people to apply labels and helps them to find and select a good range of really meaningful labels has always been problematic. Scrolling embedded lists are ugly and not highly usable, dropdowns are unscalable and … not particularly inspiring. We’ve had to create lists within lists that the user quickly tires from and abandons, inserting only the minimal required information in order to proceed. (Disclaimer: this is based on my own observation and anecdotal experience with these types of interfaces – I’d be happy to hear if you’ve had other experiences with these kinds of interfaces).

Jobby’s interfaces achieves two objectives that interface designers and users have for these ‘labelling’ or ‘categorising’ pages:

  1. it makes them efficient and therefore enjoyable to use. This interface achieves two tasks: selecting a label, then putting that label into a category (newbie/ skilled / advanced). You achieve this by clicking once, twice or three times on the tag, and visual feedback is provided (in the form of a number 1, 2 or 3, as well as the immediate placement of the tag in the category below) to show the outcome of the user’s actions. It does take a little while to learn the interface (in my case, a couple of seconds), but once learned, it sticks. There is no messing around, no mixing up of inputs, it’s simple, simple, simple. A user can quickly and accurately create a categorised list of labels for themselves *and* enjoy the process.
  2. it encourages the user to apply more labels through exposing them to a large list of tags, and helps them to ensure that they have remembered/applied important tags. Here the tag cloud comes into it’s own as a means of displaying a large amount of reasonably scannable content, with most frequently used tags highlighted using increased font size and bolding. Because the user is able to draw on the list created by the Jobby community, they can see what tags other users are choosing and make sure that they choose similar tags (when appropriate). Of course, they can also create new tags, as required, if they have skills that are unique to the rest of the community.

Using a tag cloud in this environment is interesting for other reasons. You can see at a glance what the ‘hot’ skills are. What other kinds of people/skillsets are out there on the market. So the tag cloud actually does more than act as a list-making interaction device, it also provides an insight into the Jobby community and the job seeking community at large. (There’s an equally interesting and Ajaxified filtering tool for employers… you can go take a look at that yourself though… I’m stuck on tag clouds for the moment).

Unfortunately, Jobby haven’t solved *all* the well documented problems with tag clouds and tagging in general. Scalability is going to be problematic for them – particularly when they scale out into more employment sectors (at the moment they’re focussing on the ‘geek web set’). Even with this one sector, it will be interesting to see how long the tag cloud listmaking solution remains efficient as more and more people get on board. How will they keep the tag cloud to a manageable size? And, of course, what do we do with those people who insist on adding the tag ‘IA’ when someone else has already added ‘Information Architecture’. Even with the small sample of users who’ve been playing with the site to date, there is plenty of this messiness going on. (Even in the ‘design’ section where people are making an utter mess of the tags. Here’s a (somewhat ironic) sample:

UI Design, UI Specification, Usability, Usability Tests, Use Cases, User Center Design, User Requirements, User-Centric Design, UX Strategy

Is anyone else thinking ‘cluster’?

Anyways, it’s not perfect, but it’s *definitely* worth a look.

I’ll be really interested to hear what you think!

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