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.

10 Replies to “Tag Clouds in the flesh”

  1. 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?

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

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