Connontational video streams
as representations of on-line discussion contributions
What does it look like when you are in a discussion with 5 (or 500)
people connected electronically?
It is not realistic to have a discussion with 500 people.
In my opinion, a real time discussion is only possible with maximum 5 to
8 people. If there are more people, the prevalent mode of communication
will be one-to-many, which I wouldn't call interactive anymore, because
it means that most of the people have to listen most of the time.
If everybody wants to be active, a larger group will have the strong urge
to break down to several sub groups. This means, the foveal attention
of a single person in a discussion will be on only 5 to 8 people. Everything
else is peripheral. If the discussion is not real time, it is of course
possible to be part of more than one discussion. Out of these reasons,
my focus is primarily on discussion groups of 5 to 8 people. (And it doesn't
matter if we look at it on a normal screen or on a very
Intuitive, non-textual representation of discussion content
To browse such discussion groups, I would like to propose
the following: All textual information which each participant writes or
has written (say, the email messages) is transformed to a continuous
stream of video. The semantic content of the text messages is mapped
onto a sequence of videos and pictures. The mapping is realized on the
side of the receiver, because a simple text line like "I love cats" means
different things to different people. Some would associate this with an
ad for cat food, some other would be more negative because they dislike
the mentality of cats and would therefore see pictures like a dog chasing
a cat. For this purpose, each participant has a personal database of
semantic descriptions of pictures and videos. If the participant scans
the messages of a group, this textual information is transformed automatically
to a user specific multiple stream of video. These video snippets do have
mainly connotative meanings, not denotative!
And because it is a triadic relation, the video stream generated from a
certain collection of email messages is not visualized in the same manner
for different users. It might even change over time for a single user,
because her/his own personal database of semantic descriptions changes
over time too. An example: If I move from Switzerland to Boston, this change
of environment will certainly influence my visual connotations to words
like "MIT", "Boston", etc. (How to update the database is a not yet solved
The background to this idea is the theory behind
the semantic differential (mainly by Osgood and Ertel)
as well as the semiotic ecological approach of my Psychology Professor
at the University of Bern, Alfred Lang.
So if we first look at an ongoing discussion, it might look like that:
Each picture (actually, video stream) represents the transformed collection
of already written email messages in the form of a video clip. Of course
not only the actual video pictures contribute to the connotative impact
of the stream, but also the length of each scene as well as the combination
of clips and pictures, means, post production and editing rules apply as
This is a single discussion or thread. But as mentioned above, we can
participate in more than one group, as long as real time presence is not
required. For this purpose, we have a remote control which allows us to
zap between discussions like channels on TV. There is an up and down button,
and we zap until we see something interesting, until a combination of video
streams catches our interest. We can also pre-program our remote control
for certain channels, which means, bookmarks to certain threads, and jump
directly to a specific group.
On each "channel" = discussion, we can rewind and replay the discussion,
which means, previous email messages are transformed to video streams.
We have a complete non-linear access to the history of the thread. For
this purpose, we have the equivalent buttons of a VCR: play (real time),
fast rewind, fast forward (only if we are not already in real time). We
also have a counter which shows us where we are, like the potential controls
of a time machine:
One of these buttons allows us to jump to the beginning of the discussion,
another one let us jump to real time. With the fast forward and fast rewind
buttons, we can skim all parts of the discussion backwards and forwards.
The positions of the video windows on the screen are dynamic: they float
on the desktop according to which person has replied to which other person
recently. The closer two persons are, the more they have replied to or
cited each other. This leads to an additional grouping of person representations.
There is also the possibility of layering. The video stream of the most
active person is on top, overlaying those of people which have posted messages
less recently. Additionally, the video of the person with the most recent
contribution at all has a green border.
By clicking on a video, the actual email message pops up, depending
on where in the time continuum we are located. Underneath the text boxes,
the connotational video interpretations of the email content goes on.
One of my initial ideas, the 3x2 meter big wall, is already realized
Difference between connotative and denotative:
A nuclear explosion may be described connotationally as a bright
thing, but denotationally it is a dark event, because it means a
negative act, a relapse into a dark "barbarian" age.
Lang proposes a psychological interpretation of semiotic
processes. Each semiosis consists of a reference, interpretation,
and representation; more precise in German: Referenz, Interpretanz,
and Repräsentanz. Important is that every relation is triadic,
not dyadic! This means in our context: There is not only a sender and a
receiver, but also an instance between them which acts as an interpreter.
If we look at the connotation of an email message, each one means something
completely different to different persons, depending on the third thing,
the "Interpretanz". It is important to mention that the components of this
sort of semiosis are not predefined object classes, but roles in a relational
Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no English translations
available for Lang's semiotic ecological approach.
Lang, Alfred [1992b] Kultur als 'externe Seele' - eine semiotisch-ökologische
Perspektive, in: Christian Allesch et al. (eds) Psychologische Aspekte
des kulturellen Wandels, Verlag des Verbandes der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften
Österreichs, pp. 11-32.
Lang, Alfred  Eine Semiotik für die Psychologie - Eine
Psychologie für die Semiotik, in: Leo Montada (ed), Bericht
über den 38. Kongreß der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie
in Trier 1992, Bd.2, Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen et al., pp. 664 - 673.
Lang, Alfred [1993b] Zeichen nach innen, Zeichen nach außen -
eine semiotisch-ökologische Psychologie als Kulturwissenschaft,
in: Peter Rusterholz/ Maja Svilar (eds) Welt der zeichen - Welt der Wirklichkeit,
Paul Haupt Verlag, Bern, pp. 355-85.
Lang, Alfred [1993c] Non-Cartesian Artefacts in Dwelling Activities:
Steps towards a Semiotic Ecology, in: Schweizerische Zeitschrift
für Psychologie, Vol.2, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern - Stuttgart - Toronto,
Osgood, C. E., May, W. H., & Miron, M. S. (1975).
Cross-cultural universals of affective meaning. Urbana, Il:
University of Illinois Press.
Index terms: SEMANTIC-DIFFERENTIAL, MEANING, CONNOTATIONS, CROSS-CULTURAL-DIFFERENCES.
Send me some comments!
Last updated Mar 9 1998.