Using Cumulus? Please check your tagcloud.xml!

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 The tagcloud.xml bundled with the source code download is an older, outdated “dump” of my blog’s tags.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)

16 Comments

  1. Can this be loaded asynchronously to prevent site delays?

    Comment by Ajeet — June 2, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

    • Ajeet: Yes. We’re working on that for future versions.

      Comment by Roy — June 5, 2011 @ 10:32 am

  2. oh so finally googles bot developed.

    Comment by Coccinelle — June 4, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

  3. What version of Flash Player does it require ?
    I cannot find its source code ……
    Could you please help me ??

    Comment by Animesh — June 30, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    • The current version requires Flash Player 9.

      Comment by Roy — July 5, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  4. I want to use the cloud in Blogspot blogs, Can I? and how to do it please..

    Comment by d-quote — July 6, 2011 @ 1:45 am

    • You should google for “Blogumus”… :)

      Comment by Roy — July 11, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  5. Is there a way I can add cumulus to my confluence wiki? thanks

    Comment by Laura — July 7, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

    • There’s a lot of documentation on this site about how to repurpose the flash movie on other platforms, but to my knowledge, there’s no port to confluence yet.

      Comment by Roy — July 11, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  6. Thanks Roy, Now I will google For Blogumus

    Comment by d-quote — July 11, 2011 @ 11:36 pm

  7. Hello Roy!

    is ther a way to add images to the tagcloud?

    Regards…

    Comment by Mauricio — July 26, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

    • I have an images-only version, but mixing text and images is tricky. Overlapping becomes a problem, and it ends up not looking very nice.

      Comment by Roy — August 14, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  8. sir is it possible for blogspot or such type websites ??

    Comment by Andy — July 26, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  9. Hi
    I saw your tag-cloud on this website : http://www.webwep.com/ at the bottom of the page on the right
    I really aprriciate to use it like a flash menu
    I’m graphik designer (french) and relooking my website, so searching new cool stuff to dynamise it
    do you send (or give maybe ???) such interactive item to build a cool menu ???

    thx for your answer and take care

    Jérôme from La France

    Comment by ISARD — March 12, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  10. Hi Roy,

    I originally installed the flash tag cloud on my self hosted WordPress blog, not just for it’s great looks, but also because I assumed that since it was flash, Google would not be able to read it, and I could do away with some redundant links that were being created with the HTML tag cloud.

    Is there someway I can easily get rid of the Link output that Google reads ?

    Comment by PBScott — June 25, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    • As far as I can tell, Google now reads into Flash too. I’ve found that people who upload my example XML file along with the tag cloud SWF will end up getting the links in that file indexed, even though it’s only ever mentioned/loaded in the SWF. For now there’s no user setting to control the no-flash content that the plugin outputs. That is something I hope to add if I ever get around to doing a new version.

      Comment by Roy — July 4, 2012 @ 8:17 pm