Here at TechRepublic, we're not ashamed to admit when someone else designs something cool. Case in point: tagcloud,
an odd little online service that will accept RSS feeds, and parse
out the relevant keywords from the syndicated content. You can create
multiple "tag clouds" (like the one on our own discussions door, which
ranks user-submitted discussion tags), based around themes. I use it to
help me keep up on odd subjects, like general tech trends, the
buzzwords in the sci-fi community, and sports.
Now, like most such technologies, there's no substitute for actually
reading all the feeds you subscribe to. The tech is really bad at
filtering out signal-to-noise. Tagcloud tries to help that by letting
you exclude keywords from the tag ranks lists. For example, in my
sports cloud, the raw keyword matching will rank "coach" as the most
common word, because there's rarely a sports article that doesn't
include the term. However, that very commonality makes the term
irrelevant. So, I exclude "coach" and suddenly everything comes into
feeds, to help me keep up with current events. Tuning these is a little
trickier, since Fark has labels for all of its posts—Amusing, Spiffy,
Stupid, Obvious, etc.—that flood the keyword parser. Pretty much every
feed has some "always there" component that skews the results, and
tuning a cloud with multiple feeds can get tricky. How do you know when
you've got the signal-to-noise ratio right? You don't, unless you know
what the signal should sound like.
Sadly, for the moment, we do. The London bombings are dominating online
discourse, so when "London" reaches prominent keyword status in your
tagcloud, odds are you've tuned it right. Small comfort, considering,
but at least there is a small silver lining to be found.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.