May 11, 2007

Weekend of May 11, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Hugo Liu on The Semantics of People and Culture

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Henry Jenkins on the Concept of Wow!, Part I of II

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.

This issue features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site includes tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.

This week's update features an opening note from C3 Affiliated Faculty Hugo Liu, who shares notes based on his recent preface to a special issue of the International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems' Special Issue on Semantics of People and Culture.

The closing note is the first of a two-part excerpt from Henry Jenkins' new book The Wow Climax. The second piece of this series will appear as the opening note for next week's Weekly Update.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
The Semantics of People and Culture

By: Hugo Liu

As we focus on the future of the human-grown semantic web, it would be wise to remember the lessons of our recent past. Even when mountains of technical standards were complete, web 2.0 and social media did not really take off until the activities of semantic production--such as tagging, rating, and associating--became easy, transparent, and rewarding enough to sustain organic growth of participation. Looking forward, the next advancements upon today's tagging and rating systems would be wise to put semantical ergonomics first--intentionally designing systems to leverage the implicit semantic machinery that guides how people naturally want to conceptualize, organize, and communicate.

We envision the Semantics of People and Culture as the research agenda that will support new innovations in the human-grown semantic web. We have presented a roadmap of three promising areas of research--politics of tagging, subjectivity, and cultural inheritance.

Tagging and rating communities are political--people naturally want to use tags and ratings for certain purposes and in idiosyncratic ways. Then we should systematically measure the semantic value unique to community-produced annotations. Harkening to Al-Khalifa and Davis' article, we surmise that community-produced tags are of higher semantic quality than machine-generated tags because 1) they do not dwell on what is obvious (i.e. 'same-terms', 'synonyms'); 2) they express concepts that are definitively related to a website, but through non-obvious relation types (i.e. 'related-terms'); and 3) they more optimally exploit natural language words for the content indexing problem than do information extraction algorithms. We should also base future designs of tagging and rating systems upon ethnographies of real-world and "off-label" usage, such as Gruber's, which found that tags and bags-of-tags found in the wild on sites like and flickr can improvise syntactic behaviors like negation and coordination, or improvise opinions by collocating keywords with subjective language, e.g. 'tv', 'ads', 'funny'.

As tags and ratings are contributed by people, they will not always be objective. Subjectivizing factors such as tastes, personality, and culture can and do color human semantic productions. In many subjective domains, such as film recommendation, dating, or consumer products, 'truth' can sometimes be quite local to particular subjective segments. To make the full use of subjective semantics, we should develop techniques to support the localization of meaning, for example, by social information filtering, or through local trust metrics and the arbitration of controversy

Ultimately, it could make sense to model the systematic subjective factors directly. Tastes, personalities, ethnicities, genders, subcultures, beliefs, etc. do have some systematic component. We can conceive of any individual's subjectivity as based in the multiple inheritance of various cultural prototypes, just as a programmatic object can inherit default properties and behaviors from various base classes. By capturing the shared common sense and sensibilities that define each subjective factor within 'cultural modules', it could afford improvisational manipulations of our tags and ratings corpora--such as normalizing away subjectivity, or translating tags, assertions, and ratings from one cultural context to another. Cultural modeling may sound exotic, but really, they aren't so far off. Engineering efforts to carefully capture knowledge that explicates culture, tastes, sentiment, and the like are gaining momentum and traction.

The human-grown semantic web has already proved its great potential. By researching semantic technologies to exploit real-world system usage, to cope with subjectivity, and to enhance interpretation using cultural context, we can create smarter systems to harness and enhance humans' intrinsic semantic productivity.

This piece is based on a recent editorial preface Liu wrote as guest editor of Idea Academic Publishers' International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems' Special Issue on Semantics of People and Culture (Volume 3, Issue 1), which was dated January through March 2007.

Dr. Hugo Liu chaired the Computational Aesthetics workshop at the 2006 meeting of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. He is a postdoctoral scholar at MIT's Media Laboratory.

---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------

The Era of Hits Is Over. Another keynote speech has addressed this point, and it is one worth reading...with a proliferation of choices, no shows are going to be quite the hits they once were.

Viral Marketing and the Blogosphere: Perspectives from The Convergence Newsletter. A piece from this month's newsletter out of the Newsplex at the University South Carolina focuses on the blogosphere and word-of-mouth.

Bones Interactive Murder Mystery. The FOX procedural drama tells the story through MySpace profiles for a variety of the characters surrounding the weekly Bones murder mystery, letting fans start to work on solving the mystery before the show ever hits the air.

NBC Rejects Easy Money for Short Online Video Content to Create Sustainable Business Model. The network has decided to only accept 30-second spots for pre-roll ads if it is for full-length content, hoping to create a business model that features advertising within online video content which viewers will accept long-term.

Cox and ABC Strike Deal to Bring More Content to VOD, No Fast-Forwarding. The network will be making significant new content available to Cox subscribers, but the advertising will be mandatory viewing.

WWE Looks for Its Biggest Fan with Comcast Ziddio. Fans are asked to submit short videos explaining what makes them the biggest wrestling fan, with the top 10 appearing on the Web site and being flown in for Summerslam in an effort to determine the one biggest fan.

History Channel's Band of Bloggers. This Web initiative will feature content created by soldiers in the war in Iraq and will launch with a televised special later this year.

Nielsen Looking to Create Accurate Way to Measure Online Video Consumption. The online video measurement service will combine panel and census research in an effort to provide more accurate accounts of what online videos people are watching--and to make Nielsen accountable for the shifts in ways people are consuming their television content.

Immersive Story Worlds (Part Two). This second part from the introduction of Sam Ford's thesis work looks further at aspects of these narrative universes and what makes them unique.

Immersive Story Worlds (Part One). This post features the first part of Sam Ford's Master's thesis introduction, looking at the concept of immersive story worlds and how worlds like soap operas, comic book universes, and the pro wrestling industry exist in a category of their own.

Lost Reveals Another Important Number: 119. Ivan Askwith shares news and perspectives about the official announcement of when the Lost television series will end.

Multiple New Advertising Models, Measurement Techniques Announced for Upfronts. Among the choices is NBC's "total audience measurement," which joins a variety of new metrics and models that have been tested out or talked about in the past few weeks.

House, Lost, Office Among Top Gainers from DVR Viewers. Nielsen releases information on a week of DVR viewing to show which shows seem to get the biggest boost in numbers.

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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------

Wow! Part I of II

By: Henry Jenkins

The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to my new book, The Wow Climax. The book deals with the ways that the aesthetics of popular culture emphasize the emotional engagement of consumers. What follows suggests the way that this concept of emotional engagement (the "wow" factor) runs through the history of 20th century entertainment. Understanding this fit between emotion and entertainment can be helpful at a time when advertisers are seeking to tap the emotions of their consumers to create greater brand loyalty. The second piece will appear as the opening note in next week's newsletter.

Consider the singular beauty of the word "wow." Think about the pleasure in forming that perfectly symmetrical phrase on your tongue. Imagine the particular enthusiasm it expresses the sense of wonderment, astonishment, absolute engagement. A "wow" is something that has to be earned and in the modern age, we distribute standing ovations far too often when we are just being polite but we have become too jaded to give a wow. The term takes on a certain irony as if it can only be uttered in quotation marks. Perhaps we are not as jaded as the Variety critic who was asked to review a performance by a pair of Siamese twins, who did impersonations, sang, did ballroom and tap dancing, and juggled, all in the course of a ten minute vaudeville act. All the critic could muster was "not bad for an act of this kind," a phrase that falls far short of a wow....

This book's title comes from an old vaudeville term. The moment of peak spectacle and maximum emotional impact in an act became known as "the wow climax," "the wow finish" or simply "the big wow." Writing in the Saturday Evening Post in 1925, in the declining years of the vaudeville circuits, theatre critic Walter De Leon explained, "An added kick at the finish of an act is an elusive little thing that every vaudevillian tries to capture for the completely comprehensible reason that its possession usually guarantees long routes and pleasant profits. It is the finish of an act which does, or does not, start an audience palm whacking. The measure and quality of this applause reveal the degree of pleasure received from the act. The acts that afford the most pleasure to the largest number of different audiences are the acts that play most steadily and continuously."

Vaudeville was not about telling stories; it was about putting on a show and more than that, it was about each performer's individual attempt to stop the show and steal the applause. Vaudeville had little use for the trappings of theatrical realism; it was about the spectacular, the fantastic, and the novel. Vaudeville had little use for continuity, consistency, or unity; it was about fragmentation, transformation, and heterogeneity. The underlying logic of the variety show rested on the assumption that heterogeneous entertainment was essential to attract and satisfy a mass audience. The vaudeville program was constructed from modular units of diverse material, each no more than twenty minutes long, juxtaposed together with an eye towards the maximum amount of variety and novelty.

Performers were responsible for originating their acts, negotiating with production specialists for materials and props, rehearsing and refining their performance skills, and transporting and maintaining scenery. This performer-centered mode of production resulted in an aesthetic strongly focused on performance virtuosity. Performers were expected to execute their specialties with a consistently high level of speed and precision. Frequently, acts were designed to focus attention upon the performer's skills, having little or no other interest. Those skills were measured in terms of the audience's outward emotional response: vaudeville had little use for nuance; everything was designed to ensure a big splash. In the old system, the local theatre manager would stick his head into the auditorium near the end of each act and listen to hear how it went over; the manager's notes helped to ensure whether or not the performer would get further bookings. So the performer's economic livelihood depended on their ability to shape and control the audience's emotional trajectory through the performance in the hopes of hitting a crescendo at the moment which really mattered.

The concluding portion of this piece will appear in the opening section of next week's Weekly Update.

Henry Jenkins is the chief faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is Director of the Comparative Media Studies program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. His blog is available at Jenkins' new book, The Wow Climax, features Jenkins' work focusing on various media forms and emotional reactions that result from them.


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (

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