Sarah Sood: Taking the Emotional Pulse of the Blogosphere

June 29, 2009 · Print This Article

I was leafing through my alma mater’s quarterly magazine over the weekend and, while intending to flip straight through to the Class Notes and Obits like I usually do, I found myself absorbed instead by a fascinating profile of Pomona College Assistant Professor (and Northwestern University grad) Sarah Sood, a computer scientist whose research focuses on the emotional content of the blogosphere.

FEsarahsood

Sood is interested in connecting people via the stories they tell. For the past six years, she’s been designing programs that enable computers to identify the emotional components of blog-based narratives. The results thus far have produced Buzz, a search and retrieval system that mines blogs for interesting and emotionally compelling stories.

If you’re a Chicagoan, you may very well have seen Sood’s work in 2005 when for a period of one year Buzz was displayed in the lobby of the Second City Theater. Taking the form of a multi-media theatrical installation, it presented four talking-head avatars, each of whom related stories derived from Sood’s research. A description of the project can be found on Northwestern University’s Infolab website, excerpted below:

“Buzz is a multimedia installation that exposes the buzz generated by blogs. Buzz finds the blogs which are compelling; those where someone is laying their feelings on the table, exposing a dream or a nightmare that they had, making a confession or apology to a close friend, or regretting an argument that they had with their mother or spouse. It embodies the blogger with virtual actors who externalize these monologues by reading them aloud.”

Click the image below to be taken to a demonstration clip from the installation:

Buzz Demo

Buzz Demo

Picture 1

Sood also used the Buzz retrieval system to explore emotional reactions to Chicago landmarks (click here for demo):

http://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~sowsley/media/chicago-buzz-small.mov

Chicago Buzz

While installations like Buzz provide entertaining diversions, Sood’s next project promises to be far more rich in its possibilities. She is developing an “emotional-state search engine” that will seek out web content driven by one of six emotions: happiness, fear, sadness, surprise, disgust and anger. Writer Lori Kido Lopez, who authored the aforementioned profile of Sood, points out that the Buzz-based emotional search engine “is vastly different from a typical search engine.” Lopez explains,

“If you put the words “happy” and “Obama” into Google, the sites that pop up include information about Obama’s White House happy hours and a mix tape called “Obama’s Happy Ending”—neither of which have distinct emotional content. Sood’s goal is to be able to search for content about “Obama” but also to be able to specify that the stories are emotionally “happy”—and actually be able to come up with a list of articles where the writer is feeling joyous about the topic of Obama. These stories might include topics like the euphoria and love surrounding Obama’s family, or excitement toward his message of change.”

Sood hopes to have the website ready for public use by the end of this summer. I’m already thinking of emotional buzzwords and topics to pair them with…the possibilities are endless.




Iran: A Nation of Bloggers

June 21, 2009 · Print This Article

Twitter’s getting all the type re: the Iranian election and its aftermath, but this nicely done (if substantively slight) little video (via Beautiful/Decay) produced by the Vancouver Film School makes a case for the role that blogs and bloggers have played in Iranian political dissent. Did you know that Iran is the third largest country of bloggers?

Iran: A nation of bloggers from Mr.Aaron on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Just saw this via Hrag Vartanian: Interactive Persian Blogosphere Map. It that shows the different types of bloggers active in Iran and the relationships bewteen them. You can zoom in and click on different sections (poetry, reformer, secular, or cyber-shia, among others) and it will take you directly to an example of that type of blog.




MW Capacity

April 6, 2009 · Print This Article

I recently came across MW Capacity, Chris Lowrance and Sam King’s “painter blog for no-coasters,” and if you’re not already among its readers I encourage you to start checking it out on a regular basis. picture-12

MW Capacity focuses on painting in the Midwest, and I love their approach: lots of images, very brief write-ups on the artists (and sometimes none at all, just pictures) and that’s it. The blogs’ readers take over from there in the comments, resulting in an online version of group crit that’s surprisingly respectful and considered given our tendency on the internet to let the s*&t fly first and think about it later.

Today MW Capacity posted on Angelina Gualdoni’s new work at Kavi Gupta (and have also covered her in the past, with a relatively large number of comments on the work in response). They also had an interesting group discussion on Jim Lutes. But no gang rapes allowed: the blog’s policy is to take down posts if an artist doesn’t want to be there. It seems to be a pretty friendly and laid back atmosphere, so I imagine having one’s work featured would be something to feel excited about, not fear.




Re: Should Bad At Sports Twitter Art Reviews?

March 13, 2009 · Print This Article

Remember the days of the email love letter? I do. They were lovely–you could secretly compose long screeds to your beloved while at work and pretend it was just business. I’ll bet a lot of you kids are nodding your heads right now and saying, well, yeah…but for me textual flirtation was all about instant messaging. Perish the thought, I say. A proper love letter should be lengthy, sometimes even ridiculously so, filling pages of loose-leaf paper, scrolls of screen, however long it takes to come even an iota closer to capturing in words that ineffable feeling that you’re shyly, determinedly, bursting to convey.

To me, writing about art is a lot like writing a love letter. I’m sure many of you are snorting with derision at that statement, but I don’t care; I really mean it. Why else would those of us who still bother to write about art keep doing it, if not for the sheer stupid pleasure of using exorbitant language to capture that which words can never adequately convey?

That’s why I’m kind of aghast at the rise of Twitter and Facebook as a growing forum for art criticism these days. Now, I totally get the social aspects and benefits of these applications, and to the way they provide increased and enriched  opportunities for argument and back-talk, along with a gossipy sort of zing to art discourse in general, I say right on. But I mourn the passage of long-form art criticism (can we please just call it art writing? The term ‘criticism’ always feels much too, well, critical to me). The blogosphere still allows people to write about an artwork or a show at some length, but even that is changing: some bloggers who’ve held their fingers to the wind for far longer than I are noting (in decidedly hopeful tones, I should add) the drastic streamlining of  the blog form, or even, as Deanna Isaacs surmised a few weeks ago in the Reader, the death of text itself.

Art, like any object of affection, deserves extravagant prose devoted to it, damn the word count. Even work that may not be all that great is worthy of elaboration in my book. Do we really want Peter Schjeldahl and the museum curators to be the only ones given the space and opportunity to write about art at length? Personally, I think that would be a fucking shame.

That being said, I’m not against Twittering art reviews at Bad At Sports–I  think we should try it. I’m well aware that blogs are not the place to try and resuscitate long-form criticism, and I’m continually fascinated with the different ways people use words to grapple with art. The — what is it — 140 words? — that Twitter allows can provide a good exercise in summing up a work of art or an exhibition concisely and with, as the genre seems to require, just the right amount of deadpan irony. I myself possess none of the pith required to Twitter well, but I genuinely look forward to seeing what those who have a knack for it will do with this emerging form.