Sunday, March 20, 2011

Google Analytics Now Has Word Clouds!

Word clouds. Still around, are they? They need to either improve or fade away. Here are my top six reasons for why this is Google pandering to a perceived need rather than acting as an analytics leader.

1. The size of type does nothing that a quantity-sorted list doesn't do
2. Adjacency means almost nothing. What good is alphabetic sorting?
3. Color (when used) means nothing; it's just for dazzle.
4. They irritate smart executives who know they are gratuitous and who lose respect for the analyst
5. They dazzle not-so-smart executives who then expect you to find tremendous insights in them
6. They frustrate good analysts who would rather use that big chunk of real estate for something truly worthy

A word cloud has several available dimensions, in other words --- size of type, location within the cloud, color, and color intensity. A good word cloud would use all of these dimensions but current word clouds use just one. Location (adjacency) could represent either similarity or co-occurrence. Color could represent a typology (problem words vs solution words, or whatever fits into your strategy). Color intensity could represent something quantitative, such as pages per visit.

I don't know of any word cloud generator that uses more than font size, do you? Please slam me if I have missed something here.

Google absolutely has the in-house talent to make word clouds into something better. What a shame they didn't bother.