Better Tag clouds for your site, about your site... or about anything you want!

February 27th, 2006

A few "undocumented features"

February 27th, 2006, 7:00

If you have already placed a ZoomCloud in your website, and when you did it, you selected either to draw a dot between tags or to write the weight of the tags, you may have noticed that at the end of the JavaScript URL one or two misterious letters appear.

For example, a simple call without drawing dots nor writting the weight of the tags, looks something like this:

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

However, if we selected to draw a dot between tags and their weight, the call URL becomes

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

There, the letter d tells ZoomClouds that it must draw the dots between tags, and the letter s instructs ZoomClouds to write the weight of each tag. If you remove the letter s, then the weight won't show up. We call these letters "extra commands". They tell ZoomClouds to do certain things that usually cannot be done just by manipulating the CSS code.

The million dollar question now is - are there other extra commands? Sure there are. Not many so far, but just enough to start documenting them, so you can take advantage of them if you like.

Each command is indeed one single letter (all lowercase so far). Not very intuitive but it helps keeping the URLs short and to the point.

The other active extra commands so far are:

n    If a tag takes up more than one word, the n command tells ZoomClouds not to break the tag into two lines, and keep it always in one line. You could think of this as a nowrap command.
l    This command forces each tag to appear on a single line. This is the same as saying that instead of a tag cloud, you'll get a list of tags, one tag per line.
w    Instead of showing the tags in alphabetical order, sort them by weight, starting with the most relevant tags (the ones using the largest font). I personally like this option.
o    Normally, when you click on a tag, you get a results page on the same window. When you use the o command, you force the browser to show the results page on a new browser window.
c    Ignore the assigned tag colors and instead assign a random color to each and every tag - out of a total of 12 colors. The random colors look better over a white background, so we suggest not to use this option if you're using a background color other than white.

The order of the commands is irrelevant. If you want to use the wods commands, it doesn't matter whether you add dows, owsd or wosd. It is important however to use only lowercase letters.

And that's it for now. If you have any other suggestions, comments are open!

ZoomClouds API

February 27th, 2006, 6:58

ZoomClouds has a very simple API that allows you to take the results from your cloud and do with them, well, whatever you want. Let's describe first how it works and later I'll throw a couple of suggestions.

Call format
Let's say that the name you gave your cloud is BDSV. Then, you can call ZoomClouds with the following URL:

And ZoomClouds will return an XML page, very easy to parse. In the example above, the number 30 indicates how many tags we want the tag cloud to have. You can enter a number between 5 and 100. Therefore, the format of the call is:[name of your cloud]/[number of tags]/

Response format
The response format will be something like this (we use colors here just to emphasize the different elements):

<cloud name="BDSV">
   <tags count="30" maxweight="24" minweight="2">

That is... The response starts with a <cloud> entity that has a "name" attribute, where the cloud name is described.

Within the <cloud> entity, there is one <tags> entity with three attributes:

"count" tells you how many tags are included in the results.
"maxweight" is the largest tag weight you can find in this cloud.
"minweight" is the smallest tag weight you can find in the cloud.

Within the <tags> entity you can find all the tags in the cloud, each of them within its  <tag> ...</tag> block.

Each <tag>...</tag> block comes with three sub-entities:

 <name> ... </name>    
The name of the tag, UTF-8 encoded
 <weight> ... </weight>
A positive integer indicating the weight of this tag.
 <link> ... </link>
Possibly redundant, so we'll describe it as optional. It indicates the URL associated to this tag and cloud.
And that's it. What could you do with something like this? Well, a lot of things, although obviously they won't be as trivial as copying & pasting a given piece of code.

Some ideas
The first advantage is that by using this sort-of API, you get 100% control over your cloud's data. That's not to say that you had no control over it without the API - we never stop claiming that you can customize itto your hearth's content  - but now you can also "take" the tags and use them in any other way you want, not just to build a tag cloud.

For example, something that might be interesting could be to link your cloud data with tags in Flickr and build a mosaic of Flickr pictures based in your tags. Or building a Flash app that uses your tags in whatever way you want.

You could also build your own tag cloud, or a keyword catalog, or a directory and many other things.

The only requirement is that whatever you build, you reference it with a link to ZoomClouds, whether using the
icon, or with a small text link such as "Powered by" or something along those lines.

And of course, if you build an interesting mash-up, do let us know by leaving a comment right here, and we may feature it on a special ZoomClouds mashups collection.


I just placed a cloud at my site but some tags aren't as relevant as I was hoping they'd be

February 27th, 2006, 0:58

By in FAQ
It's not unusual to see ZoomClouds at the very beginning not selecting the very best results you'd expect. It's not normal to see virtually all results to be completely out of focus either, but to find a few terms that make you go "ok that shouldn't be there" is not a very rare occurrence. It is something that will self-correct within a short period of time, and it has a very logical explanation, due to several reasons:

  • At first, ZoomClouds will analyze the content it finds in your RSS feed, which will likely only include your last 10-15 posts. As you write more articles, ZoomClouds will have more content to analyze so when it has to calculate what the most relevant terms are from new content, the results will be more accurate.

  • Even more important is that ZoomClouds doesn't just analyze what's in your feed and accumulates the data, but in fact, when it has to analyze new content, it remembers the results of all of its previous analysis and takes that knowledge into account when it comes to determine what's relevant and what's not. You could say - in fact, you can say - that ZoomClouds becomes smarter and sharper as it finds new content from you.

  • One important detail is that when ZoomClouds analyzes new content for your cloud, not only it takes into account the results from analyzing past content from you, but it also takes advantage of anything else it has learned from other blogs, so in general terms, the intelligence ZoomClouds acquires from each and every feed is later applied as it analyzes new content for each and every cloud.

  • And last, how could you have a great content analysis system without some human touch? When you look at the results from analyzing your feeds, you can make those results even better by defining not only unwanted terms (terms you don't want to see in your cloud no matter what) but also wanted terms, that is, terms ZoomClouds apparently missed but that you find them to be relevant. It is obvious that when you enter these wanted or unwanted terms, not only you're helping ZoomClouds to better analyze your content, but you also help ZoomClouds in general terms to better analyze future content.

Therefore, if you just created a cloud and you're not completely happy with the results, it's just a matter of time - hopefully not long - until your cloud starts to show much more relevant results.

Hint: If all you do is create your cloud but do not place it anywhere, ZoomClouds will not learn much from your content. That's because ZoomClouds doesn't just update your cloud periodically simply because you created it, but it needs to see that your cloud is also being shown to people. Just one visit a day will do. If you don't place the cloud anywhere, ZoomClouds will think "well, nobody's visiting this page, so why should I update the cloud?". You can of course come to your ZoomClouds account and update it manually every day, but it's much better - and convenient - to simply place your cloud and let the magic happen behind the scenes. This may change in the future, but for now, that's how it works.

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