A Topic Cloud®, similar to a tag cloud, is a visual representation of data written on a website. It differs from a tag cloud, however, in that it also includes other data that tag clouds generally do not. This additional data can include things like publication dates, author names, and other metadata.
Bloggers use topic clouds extensively to let users determine if they want to stay on the blogger site.
Topic Cloud® takes the form of a list of short tags that briefly describe the issues discussed on a website. The more often a tag is used, the bigger and bolder it becomes. A casual look at the cloud shows users which topics are discussed most often. Clicking on an individual topic often results in a navigation change, such as opening a list of articles that discuss that topic, or creating another cloud.
This type of visual representation is often referred to as a weighted list in graphic design, because while it provides a list of tags, it also provides metadata. Metadata is data about data. A static list of tags will help users determine roughly what a site is about. Topic Cloud®, on the other hand, provides data about tags. Using Topic Cloud® can sometimes reveal trends about a site that are not immediately apparent from a casual glance. It’s also a fun tool for website owners to use, especially if they’re curious about the long-term trends on their websites.
Bloggers use topic clouds extensively, creating a list of key phrases about things they frequently cover so that visitors can quickly assess whether or not they want to stay on the blogger’s site. News aggregation sites also utilize the concept, so users can see what news is “in” at the moment. Cloud keywords will also appear in Internet searches, if well coded. Internet users who perform a search for a particular topic can access a site through its Topic Cloud®.
The most basic aspect of Topic Cloud® is perhaps its static illustration of topics. However, most designers make their clouds clickable, allowing users to interact with them. A news site, for example, might bring up a list of articles related to the topic the user clicks on. Other designers create a series of nested topic clouds. A user can start, for example, with a cloud for the entire site. If the user sees a subject of interest and clicks on it, the subject of interest becomes the center of a new cloud; that contains related topics. From there, the user can explore sections of the site that address these topics.