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Archive for the 'Internet Culture' Category

Multilingual Interactions through Machine Translation—Numbers from Socl

Friday, October 4th, 2013

For the past two years, social media platforms have been rolling out machine translation in the hopes of enabling multilingual interactions. However, the people interacting in these platforms often know each other already, and have a language in common (i.e., friends). But what happens when machine translation is used to facilitate interactions among strangers, who perhaps have common interests but not a common language?

The earliest social media platform to enable machine translation was probably Facebook, which began autotranslating conversations in Facebook pages (a good place to start given that Pages are more likely to bring together heterogeneous languages). Likewise, Google+ and Twitter later released similar features, enabling, for example, Spanish-speaking Twitter users to read the tweets from the now toppled Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, translated from Arabic to Spanish:



How often do these types of multilingual interactions occur, though? Ethan Zuckerman posed a similar question when wondering how often people use their browsers’ machine translation to pay attention to content outside their immediate reach.

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Turn This into That: a Remixing Experiment

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Two sides of social production: crowdsourcing and remixing

Networked technologies have facilitated two forms of social production: remixing and crowdsourcing. Remixing has been typically associated with creative, expressive, and unconstrained work such as the creation of video mashups or funny image macros that we often see on social media websites. Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, has been associated with large-scale mechanical work, like labeling images or transcribing audio, performed as microtasks on services like Amazon Mechanical Turk. So the stereotype is that remixing is playful, creative, expressive, but undirected and often chaotic, while crowdsourcing is useful to achieve actual work but it is monotonous, and requires (small) financial incentives.

Crowdsoucing Creativity: “Mixsourcing”

The space between remixing and crowdsourcing has partially been explored. For example, one could argue that Wikipedia exists in a unique space in between these two ideas as it relies on some, albeit small, degree of human creativity, requires no financial incentives, and leverages large numbers of contributors who are encouraged to tweak one another’s submissions. However, Wikipedia’s texts are mainly functional, purposely devoid of any personal expressiveness, and constrained by the task at hand.

On the more creative end of the spectrum, artists have explored the use of crowdsourcing, such as the Johnny Cash Project and the Sheep Market, and researchers have evaluated the uses of creative crowdsourcing for design. We wondered then, if there is a way to create a generic platform to perform creative and artistic work in a more directed, crowdsourcing-like way, some kind of “bounded creativity,” which we called “mixsourcing.”

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Beyond Emoticons: The Emergence of a New Networked Language?

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Emoticons (by stuartpilbrow on Flickr)

Emotions are difficult to express regardless of the medium. Emoticons emerged as a way to augment text-based communication with symbols representing different types of emotions. More specifically, small illustrations, such as smiley faces, represent emotions. Emoticons’ popularity turned them into built-in features in many Instant Messaging and e-mail applications, from Skype, to Google Talk, to Pidgin, to Outlook. Emoticons are not unique to computer-mediated communication, though. According to  the SMS Language Quick Reference, “The National Telegraphic Review  and Operators Guide in April 1857 documented the use of the number 73  in More code to express ‘love and kisses’.”

Years later, a new iteration of these iconic illustrations has emerged from Internet culture: rage comics.

Rage comics are neither just about rage nor only about comics. They are an irreverent language composed of dozens of crudely-drawn rage faces that represent a wide span of  human emotions from very specific situations of everyday life. For example, one of the faces called rageguy represents the deep frustration and anger over an unfortunate situation out of one’s control; another called foreveralone, articulates a profound sense of chronic loneliness;  trollface, on the other hand, conveys the quiet enjoyment derived from annoying someone else;  the okayguy face expresses the discomfort of feeling pressured to agree in order to avoid a confrontation; megusta communicates the guilty pleasure over an otherwise distasteful thing.

This language is used by thousands of people every day to create comics and share them on online discussion forums such as reddit and other websites. Some of the subreddits  include the flagship fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu (also referred to as f7u12), classicrage for “old-school rage purists”,  EFLComics for people using rage comics as a way to learn English, oooooooyyyyyyyyyyyy for “Jewish rage”, exmormonfffuuuu for “Mormon rage,” trollxchromosomes for women, and a site devoted to “Indian Rage”.

People often use web-based rage comic generators like Dan Awesome’s rage maker, browser extensions, or the iOS app to create, share and browse through rage comics. In some cases, people even summon rage faces by just typing a related file name as part of a  comment. For example, someone could type something like “Today it’s my birthday and no one has congratulated me foreveralone.jpg.”

Like many other artifacts from Internet culture, rage comics started on the (in)famous 4chan. However, it took off on reddit where new faces were added quickly through increased use. The language continues to evolve at a quick pace,  and new faces are added all the time through an organic process that relies on people’s remixing practices. For example, people sometimes link to  a new rage face while having an online discussion or creating their own rage comics. Others like it and reuse in a different context by reusing it. Nowadays, there is even a subreddit for sharing new faces. Some of the faces come from expressive photos of famous people, including  President Obama‘s “not bad” face and basketball player Yao Ming‘s “f**k that” face.

As an aside, the gender and racial politics of rage comics are rich aspects of this phenomena that deserve further analysis. For now it might be important to note that the first female face seems to have come out three years after the first rage face, and that most female faces are represented by simply the addition of a hair bow and/or long hair to the default rage faces.

At first glance, it might seem that rage comics are just a new form of emoticons. But I think they are significantly different. Emoticons are symbolic replacements for words or facial expressions, while rage faces become pictoral conversations that convey complex situational emotions and feelings. They are richer in meaning. Rage faces are a language with a rich lexicon that is co-produced and enriched through continuous networked interactions.They cross traditional national and cultural boundaries because it represents a language of the global network culture. Rage comics are co-created through large-scale conversations and the sharing of personal stories taking place in public forums. I tihink they epitomize what Manuel Castells would call a “communication protocol” of the “global network society”.

Internet Memes for World Peace

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Today was perhaps the first time a head of state makes reference to an Internet meme in a speech. This is both  funny and potentially really interesting.  Mexican President Felipe Calderón during a speech given to the national delegation participating in the Panamerican Games made reference to a popular Internet meme from known as El Fua. Calderón said:

You must know how much your are worth and you should go the extra mile… I was going to say something else, well, El Fua! (laughs) for being Mexicans, for the value of being Mexicans, for the pride for being Mexicans, feel it there.


El Fua – Source: Know Your Meme

Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cat Theory of the Internet argues that cute pictures of cats (i.e., memes) are precondition to the spread of powerful ideas, like democracy. Perhaps the Arab Spring revolution was one of those ideas, we don’t know, but if a silly Internet meme made it to the president’s mind, could the same happen to other bottom-up ideas? Could one of those be a change of policies related to the war on drugs? One can hope.