Want Some Emotion with That Website?


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.

  1. Joe "Giuseppe" Zuccaro says

    LOVE the mood cloaking accessory!

    Roger, I agree that we are a long way off from getting this right. This is going to be a minefield for marketers, especially with regard to privacy. It’s one thing to tee off someone because you see where they visit online and what the do there, but getting in people’s heads might really cause a storm, especially if the “emotional diagnosis” is incorrect.

    Obviously the innovators and early adopters of this technology will be the pioneers, probably with arrows in their back.

    But eventually it will gain acceptance – many of us are already wearing our hearts on our sleeves when we post to social network sites, so it makes sense that organizations will start standardizing and collecting emotional data.

  2. cbrancheau says

    I did not know about this, very interesting. I am not sure that I quite understand how this would work. Do you have some additional resources that I could reference? Thanks.

  3. Greg Meyer says

    Roger –

    Great thoughts on this issue, and I’m glad to see you’re covering it.

    It’s not surprising that people are trying to provide a markup language for emotional sentiment — one of the great challenges of email is that it’s not good at conveying emotions — so solving this problem has lots of economic, social, and personal value.

    That being said, my opinion is that this markup needs to happen automatically for it to have any real value for the average user. No one is going to want to go beyond marking “I feel ;)” to indicate snarkiness, but the software that can identify that emoticon, analyze surrounding words and themes, and assign markup to the comment is quite valuable indeed.

    There’s another component to this work, which is that people do not always communicate verbally with the same aptitude or in the same style as they communicate in person. Would such a software also have to take into account past communication by that person to accurate calibrate whether my is similar to yours?

    Again, great thoughts on this. For more thoughts on Neuromarketing/neurochemistry, you should take a look at two excellent books: Brain Rules (http://brainrules.net/), by John Medina, and Create Your Own Economy (http://createyourowneconomy.org/) by Tyler Cowen. Both of these authors tackle different perspectives on neurodiversity, brain chemistry, and why we think they way we do.



  4. Inteligencia Emocional says

    La gesti?n de empresas requiere de un pensamiento muy sagaz y futurista. Para ello es necesario una inteligencia empresarial moderna y actualizada de forma constante.

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