Common DNA for user innovation

It all started with my original lame attempt to visualize my tag cloud over time. Then Chris Gemignani showed us how an Excel guru could solve the problem. I liked his presentation, and recreated it using AJAX. Now Oliver Steele, who is chief software architect at Laszlo, has joined the fun with Here's a 45-second silent screencast comparing the Excel, AJAX, and Laszlo (Flash) approaches:

three tag cloud visualizers

It's all good fun, but my hunch is that none of these techniques will be used much, even by their creators. They're fun to watch, once, but they don't yield actionable results.

Here's an example of what I mean. This morning, I answered an email query with a pair of links that together specify a set of my blog items. In this pattern, which is becoming more and more common for me, I explore my database -- using individual tags, combinations of tags, search, and related tags -- and accumulate a set of URLs. doesn't help me manage that accumulation, nor does director, nor do any of these tag cloud visualizers. So I collect the URLs into a text file, which is OK, but wouldn't it be nice to visualize the growing collection? Popularity, related tags, titles, and previews would all be helpful cues.

My point here isn't only to invite another round of user innovation, although that would be nice, but also to highlight the process of user innovation itself.

The three examples shown in today's screencast implement variations on the same theme, but they otherwise share no common DNA. This worries me. In the web 1.0 world we had a virtuous cycle going. You'd use a feature, view its source, modify it to suit your needs, publish it to inspire another round of innovation. The many presentation technologies now in play all have their uses, and on balance I think it's a healthy diversity. But where's the common DNA that will empower today's user-innovators?

PS: Don't miss Oliver Steele's delightful ARGH page.

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