making bbPress (and WordPress) work better!

in search of better tag cloud algorithms

Tag clouds (aka text clouds or word clouds) first appeared on the web around 2004-2005, most notably on Flickr. It took a little while for me to warm up to them, but once I accepted the idea, I found them useful to spot patterns that didn’t strike me previously in linear form.

(Digg used to have a great tag cloud, if anyone knows how to get it back let me know!)

WordPress and bbPress have halfway decent tag clouds, but they are missing some additional features I’ve seen on other clouds. Aditya Naik did a nice hack to show related tags by highlighting them simultaneously in his Enhanced Tag Heat Map (demo). I decided to add some color to the map by making the more popular tags grow “warmer” in color (example).

But there’s one thing I really don’t like in the average WordPress/bbPress tag clouds and that’s poor clustering / arrangement of the words. The positioning seems to be first come first placed and that doesn’t scale well. In a better tag cloud I think more popular terms, ie. larger terms, should be distributed between the center and edges, rather than all on the edges or all in the center. When it comes to very large clouds with many low frequency terms, this can become a noticeable problem. I also wish it would lose it’s rigid, fixed line placement of the words and have a looser arrangement like you usually see on Flash based tag clouds.

I have a project I am working on now which is bringing all this up. I discovered my Top 1000 list for bbPress forums makes a very nice tag cloud. But the word distribution within the cloud sucks. This page seems to have some nice theories and examples so I’ll probably start my research there.

I guess I have a big weekend project ahead!

4 responses

  1. Ruben

    Sorry for my english, personally i dont believe in tags.

    But in wordpress they have more sense to me than in bbpress, because in wordpress only depends on the author/s but in bbpress i dont think average forum users use them.

    I think they should be removed from bbpress.

    December 9, 2008 at 10:23 am

  2. I didn’t believe in tags much either until I saw their usefulness
    when I wrote a “Related Topics” plugin.

    December 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm

  3. Ruben

    Sure CK, for that plugin are great. But we need to avoid explain users which is the real meaning of the tags, i mean, tags are a very geek concept, in a geek oriented forum they surely work great, but what happens in an average user forum ?

    The admins should spread the habit of using tags, it’s so exhausting, surely the result will be a forum with a lot of untagged posts.

    People just want to post new threads and reply others, they dont care about the correct tags.

    December 9, 2008 at 4:44 pm

  4. It all comes down to the skill and mentality of the type of members of a forum. Some forums I noticed have very diligent users that apply tags. Some don’t know what they are or what to do.

    That’s why I built in title scanning in my Related Topics so it will gather keywords that way if no tags are present (or to supplement them).

    By the way, this was the result of my tag heat map which was useful to spot new patterns in a great deal of information that could not be easily browsed otherwise:
    (you’ll need to register to see it, sorry – thats’s to slow bots down)

    December 9, 2008 at 6:20 pm

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