Because WP-Cumulus is open source software, the source files are available online. I didn’t package them with the regular plugin download, but you can download the Flash files from wordpress.org and my blog. Included in those downloads is a file called “tagcloud.xml”, which is mainly used to test the Flash movie locally, within Flash’s IDE. Unfortunately, that file sometimes ends up online. And, in most cases, it shouldn’t.
This is not the cloud you’re looking for…
To properly (or rather: easily) develop and test the Flash movie that’s the heart of WP-Cumulus, it needs content. Without a set of tags, there’s nothing to see. So I created a file called “tagcloud.xml”. It’s loaded into the movie only if no tags are supplied through the regular route (flashvars). The tagcloud.xml bundled with the source code download is an older, outdated “dump” of my blog’s tags. That’s okay for testing, as long as its contents don’t get indexed by search engines.
Until recently, Google wasn’t very good at looking into swf (Flash) files, but it appears that this has changed. From what I can tell, Google now processes the actionscript inside, at least well enough to detect calls to external files. Unfortunately, Google’s bot isn’t quite smart enough to realize this particular file is only loaded as a fallback mechanism. And as a result, it tries to index the tag cloud xml file. This results in three possible scenarios.
Option 1: No tagcloud.xml file: 404 errors
If you’re running the stock WordPress implementation of WP-Cumulus, there should be no tagcloud.xml on your server. It’s not in the standard plugin distribution. Yet, Google will try to access it because it is potentially called from the Flash movie, resulting in a 404 “not found” error.
If you’re using something like Google’s Webmaster Tools to keep track of 404’s, you might have seen this error pop up. Rest assured, it’s not a missing file. The flash movie won’t actually call it. Since the plugin provides the tag cloud through flashvars, there’s no need to fall back to the static file.
Option 2: You’re using tagcloud.xml to provide the tags
If your website is “homebrew”, you may be using the tagcloud.xml to actually provide the Flash movie with its data. In this case, there’s nothing wrong with it getting indexed. At least not from a technological standpoint, SEO experts may disagree.
Option 3: A tagcloud.xml exists in error, and is getting indexed
If you’re using one of WP-Cumulus’s many ports to other platforms, you may have a tagcloud.xml in place. Chances are it’s not actually used, and it still has “my” data in it. In this case you really should remove the file from your web server. My website’s statistic indicate that a lot of websites have this scenario in place, and it’s causing a lot of unintended links from those sites to mine.
So, please check if your site has a tagcloud.xml, and whether it’s used. If not, please remove the file. If you’re the author of a port, please see if the file is needed in your distribution, and remove it if not. Thanks!
(image by Gurato)