We examine the creation of a tag cloud for exploring and understanding a set of objects (e.g., web pages, documents). In the first part of our work, we present a formal system model for reasoning about tag clouds. We then present metrics that capture the structural properties of a tag cloud, and we briefly present a set of tag selection algorithms that are used in current sites (e.g., del. icio. us, Flickr, Technorati) or that have been described in recent work. In order to evaluate the results of these algorithms, we devise a novel synthetic user model. This user model is specifically tailored for tag cloud evaluation and assumes an "ideal" user. We evaluate the algorithms under this user model, as well as the model itself, using two datasets: CourseRank (a Stanford social tool containing information about courses) and del.icio.us (a social bookmarking site). The results yield insights as to when and why certain selection schemes work best. Copyright 2011 ACM.