23 Things for Archivists

Thing 27: Tag Clouds and Word Clouds

By Kathryn Otto

A tag cloud, according to Wikipedia, is: “a visual depiction of user-generated tags, or simply the word content of a site, typically used to describe the content of web sites. Tags are usually single words and are normally listed alphabetically, and the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color. Thus, it is possible to find a tag alphabetically and by popularity.”

A word cloud, or text cloud, is a visualization of word frequency in a given text as a weighted list. You may have noticed the technique used to visualize the topical content of political speeches.

The Wikipedia article goes on to describe three types of word or tag clouds: “There are three main types of tag cloud applications in social software,  distinguished by their meaning rather than appearance. In the first type, there is a tag for the frequency of each item, whereas in the second type, there are global tag clouds where the frequencies are aggregated over all items and users. In the third type, the cloud contains categories, with size indicating number of subcategories.”

LibraryThing (Thing 33), which uses a tag cloud to indicate tags attributed to a book, is an example of the first type. Flickr is an example of the second type.

Wordle is an online tool for generating the first type of word clouds from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Unlike a WordPress tag cloud, with Wordle you can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle can be printed, or shared with others.

Another online tool for generating clouds is TagCrowd. It is free for non-commercial use. TagCrowd has some good FAQs, like “How do I make a word cloud?” and “How do I create an image or PDF of my cloud?”


  • If you are using WordPress for your blog, one of the widgets offered is a tag cloud. If you haven’t already tried it, activate it now to see what it does with the tags you have added to your blog entries.
  • Try out either Wordle or TagCrowd and create a word cloud using some pre-existing text—like a page from your website, perhaps. Try posting your cloud to your blog.

Blog Prompts

  • How might you use a tag cloud for your archives?
  • Can you think of several ways for your archives to use a word cloud?
  • What might the advantages be for using either or both? For example, do you have a lot of younger users or would you like to have more? Younger users are used to seeing and using tag and word clouds.


  1. […] least Thing 27 still works! Sadly, Tag Clouds/Word Clouds are probably the most useless of the four. Kathryn Otto […]

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