Group-specific Tagclouds in Academic Portals

So the other gem for me from Bryan’s Educause article was the above Gnosh from Allegheny College. Actually, I’m not sure that it was this tool that excited so much as the idea it inspired.

One of the things that has always bugged me about broad tagclouds like the one on or flickr is that, well, they are really broad – there is nothing connecting all of the words appearing in the tagcloud other than that they were used by any user of one of these services, and the userbases on these services are totally heterogenous. So sure, I can see generally what the popular tags for all flickr or users are, but why should I care? What I do care about is what the tags used in my particular community are.

How many departments webpages or college portals provide search boxes to Google (or even their own sets of pages)? Lots, right? In both cases, the users using these search boxes have lots more in common than the entire set of users across flickr or, and in fact in cases like portals we typically can get real specific about group memberships and affinities. So if instead of passing their searches directly through to the search engines we first capture locally what the terms they were using, all of a sudden we can build tagclouds of search terms that are locally relevant to that community of users.

So as someone in the Faculty of Science taking this specific Biology course, I might come to my campus portal and beside my personalized search box see a tagcloud of terms that other people in the Faculty of Science had recently used (including my professors). Sort of like displaying the attention of my particular affinity group, and potentially opening up interesting terms I may not have thought to search on.

Probably not very 2.0’ish, and likely someone will scream ‘oh the invasion of privacy’ (though nobody is forcing you to use this search interface) but what I like about the idea is that it is imminently doable right now with almost no new tech – whether it be this gnosh piece or one of the other tag cloud pieces emerging out there, the only other piece would just be a small script that wrote the search term to a database table before passing it on to whatever search engine you were using (that could be configurable). Someone please tell me if this already all exists and I’m just being dense before I go off and spend the little time I have free to using my terrible development skills to hack this together, please….

(And as an afterthought – why can’t I see all of the tags used by myself and people I list as friends in flickr – or can I? how about all of the tags used by members of the same group? Maybe this is something that is already being done through the API?) – SWL

Group-specific Tagclouds in Academic Portals