Some time ago I found a very interested technology: Topic Maps. It solves to find information and to share knowledge. One of examples of this technology is presented on this site. See "tags", "related tags", "tag synonyms" and so on. So my questions are:

  • Does somebody use it to increase usability and to increase accuracy of the search results on a web site?
  • What common problems, difficulties, features will I meet when I start of using it?


Points of usage:


  • lack of integration with other site's subsystems (poor design)
  • weak visual presentation
  • collection of information (auto suggestion, additional searching tags, synonyms, primary tags or terms)
  • categorization and association of information (synonyms, associations)
  • initial management, because of lack information (lack of dictionary and associations)

Problems that I would devise a plan how to tackle:

  • What to do with synonymous tags, most commonly the plural form.
    This will result in several tags effectively saying the same thing (think "pattern" and "patterns"), thus navigation is a bit harder and tag count might not reflect reality.
    One way to alleviate this problem is to auto suggest tags, in hopes people will use the existing ones.
  • How to deal with tag hierarchy.
    For example, I want to tag a question/post about a dog with "dog". But I'd like people looking for "pets", "animals", "canine", "fauna", "mammals" to reach this post as well. So should I always tag with the entire hierarchy in mind, or build a mechanism that knows how to associate tags as well?
  • +1 It's a good question. I think, topic maps does not work from scratch. We have to collect many many information to start analyze it. Nevertheless this system should be strongly managed at the beginning to kick it to the real world. – igor Aug 29 '10 at 14:29

Topic maps have many uses and can help the navigation of a site immensely.

For example the only way to navigate this site is by using tags (excluding search which is not regular navigation).

They are used for many different things and each place serve as something else. They can be used as,

  • Plain old topic navigation (be it categories or tags)
  • They can show levels of interest (like a blog tag cloud that shows how often a tag is uses)
  • They can be used for filtering (like the new Google wonder wheel that help filter search results)

Tag clouds can greatly enhance the usability of sites if done right, if not they can become an eye sore.

I think the number 1 issue with topic maps is that the designers forget that the purpose s to enhance the usability of the site and not a graphical gimmick. Sometimes I see these fancy tag clouds that albeit pretty are not very useful.

Just a few examples of tag clouds I have seen that were not helpful.

  • An animated tag cloud with the tags moving (you can't find what you are looking for easily and this defeats the purpose).
  • A dynamically updated tag cloud where the tags re-size based on real time usage. (This was cool to look at but very distracting and not very useful)
  • +1 I have tried to categorize your answer in my question. In addition, it was a good catch about distracting the cloud tags – igor Aug 29 '10 at 13:52

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