Tag Clouds in the flesh

Tonight, TagCrowd made its (physical) world debut at a Stanford faculty retreat in Half Moon Bay. I created a name tag for each professor by dropping their research statements and resumes into TagCrowd to create a cloud visualization of their interests, projects, collaborators and activities.

It was a hit.

The primary goal of these personal visualizations was to facilitate the formation of new collaborative research teams on the basis of shared interest. By making interests mutually visible when people meet each other for the first time, these “name tag clouds” can identify areas of overlap, complementary expertise, and opportunities for potential collaboration — all in a brief glance. They also serve as conversational props that ease the introduction process: the clouds present conversants a rich set of topics for inquiry.

Dan Jurafsky, John Perry & Tom Wasow

Looking around the room at any given time I witnessed circles of intellectual elites huddled intimately together, pointing playfully at one another’s clouds. Lera Boroditsky said that virtually every conversation she was in was about the cloud or referred to it.

At right: Dan Jurafsky, John Perry & Tom Wasow chat it up at the cocktail party with their clouds around their necks.

I saw some of the brightest minds in the world with child-like grins and heads tilted navel-ward to see the constellation of words and concepts that others were seeing: the alphabetic poetry of their lives scrawled across their hearts, as it were.

Daniel Steinbock in 100 words

Here is my own name tag from the event. As far as I know, this is the first application of tag clouds in a face-to-face community.

I got a lot of good feedback from the participants. In general people were impressed by how representative the clouds were.

The most common request was the wish to see a time-lapse animation of how the cloud visualization of one’s research interests evolves over the span of a career. Jeremy Bailenson suggested that color could be used to represent the time dimension even on a static picture like a name tag. My latest interests would shine red hot, regardless of size. Past passions would loom large and cool.

Terry Winograd & Eve Clark

Terry Winograd (pictured at right with Eve Clark) had one of the most valuable pieces of user-experience feedback when he told me that he needed his glasses to read peoples’ clouds. He’s far-sighted and so it does no good to just get closer. Note to self: bigger words, fewer words.

Thanks, Terry. And thanks to all of you for taking part and having fun doing it. I got such a kick out of it, I can’t even tell you.

Comments (6)

  1. maureen wrote::

    what a totally cool idea — creative thinking. Now I want to try making a tag cloud for my family members. will have to think about how to do it, since I don’t have access to stacks of research statements and resumes for my siblings and kids.

    Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 10:14 am #
  2. Daniel wrote::


    You or they could write short short biographies for themselves and use those as the bases for tag clouds.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 9:58 pm #
  3. Aarin wrote::

    Name tags are a great way of creating dialogue and interaction between unfamiliar participants. Working for a name tag company, I am always interested in seeing what other solutions are available/created and must admit that your tag cloud is a very creative item.

    While we typically deal with smaller, more concise tags, the contrast in letter size and colors of your tag cloud works very well in attracting someone’s attention. All in all, I find your tag very well thought out/made and as previously suggested fewer words with a larger font should increase the visibility and overall effectiveness of the tag — in general you’ll want your tag to be visible from about 10 feet away.

    Great job!

    Friday, October 27, 2006 at 1:59 pm #
  4. Michael wrote::

    Very cool idea! Would be nice to see this in a lenticular – one of those badges that changes when viewed in different directions.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 11:24 am #
  5. Jen wrote::

    Would be really great if there was an easy way to feed a tag cloud into a nametag template. How did you accomplish this for the conference?

    Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 12:43 pm #
  6. Mark wrote::

    You’ve inspired me
    Thank you

    Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 2:08 am #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (4)

  1. Ruminate » Blog Archive » Tag Crowd on Friday, January 12, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    […] Tag Crowd is a simple, but useful service… it will take text input (through the browser or an uploaded text file) and an optional stoplist of words to ignore and generate a tag cloud. I first saw it when I came across this post where the tag clouds were used on conference badges. Here is an example tag cloud for me based on dumping a few different biographical sketches into the form: […]

  2. HCPS Social Studies DigiSources » Can you name this document? on Friday, February 8, 2008 at 11:48 am

    […] as name tags for conferences, cocktail parties or wherever new collaborations start […]

  3. Tag clouds on the move « Making CommunitySense on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 9:33 am

    […] name tags for conferences, cocktail parties or wherever new collaborations […]

  4. Using Word Cloud Graphics for Branding | CDPUG BlogSphere on Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 8:53 am

    […] name tags for conferences, cocktail parties or wherever new collaborations […]