Happy Key

As a web community guy, one of the most common problems I see is the failure to communicate emotion properly when people interact online. A remark intended as humorous can be perceived as a personal attack, or an expression of sympathy can be taken as cruel sarcasm. While I always suggest caution (particularly with humor) and encourage the use of emoticons to underscore the intended emotion, even careful wording and a smiley don’t always work as intended.

This could change if a long-running but rather quiet effort gains traction. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main standards body for the Web, has released a draft for an Emotional Markup Language spec that begins with this abstract:

As the web is becoming ubiquitous, interactive, and multimodal, technology needs to deal increasingly with human factors, including emotions. The present draft specification of Emotion Markup Language 1.0 aims to strike a balance between practical applicability and scientific well-foundedness. The language is conceived as a “plug-in” language suitable for use in three different areas: (1) manual annotation of data; (2) automatic recognition of emotion-related states from user behavior; and (3) generation of emotion-related system behavior. [From Emotion Markup Language (EmotionML) 1.0 – W3C Working Draft 29 October 2009.]

Some of the markup elements envisioned include:

<action -tendencies>

Within each of these, attributes would further refine the emotional state:

<category set=”everydayEmotions” name=”satisfaction”/>


<dimensions set=”myFriendlinessDimension”>
<friendliness value=”-0.7″/><!– a pretty unfriendly person –>

Check out the spec for plenty of other examples of the sophisticated infrastructure planned for conveying emotional states.

While the rest of Web technology has some way to go to catch up with this spec, perhaps my 2006 post about a Mood-Sensing Computer was strangely prophetic… Based on real research being done at Cambridge, it included the illustration shown at the left.