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An XML Language for Emotions?

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The W3C announced the launch of an intriguing new "Incubator Activity" earlier this week that should test the limits to which XML, the lingua franca of all things IT, can be put.  The new initiative is called the "Emotion Incubator Group," and its purpose is to take us beyond the narrow range of the emoticon.  According to the group's Charter: 

    The mission of the Emotion Incubator Group, part of the Incubator Activity, is to investigate the prospects of defining a general-purpose Emotion annotation and representation language, which should be usable in a large variety of technological contexts where emotions need to be represented.

That statement also illustrates the range of ways in which those at the cutting edge of standards development are trying to enrich the potential for human-IT interaction, even as they seek to increase the effectiveness of computer-to-computer innovation through Semantic Web standards.

What would an "emotion annotation and representation language" be all about,  and is the creation of such a language actually practical?  Let's have a look.

First, it's worth noting that this effort is the fourth to be launched within an experimental program introduced by the W3C in February of this year.  This "Incubator" program is interesting in its own right, and is described at the W3C site in part as follows:

    The W3C Incubator Activity fosters rapid development, on a time scale of a year or less, of new Web-related concepts. Target concepts include innovative ideas for specifications, guidelines, and applications that are not (or not yet) clear candidates as Web standards developed through the more thorough process afforded by the W3C Recommendation Track. Advantages of the Incubator Activity include:


          Rapid start of work in an Incubator Group (XG)


          Lightweight process, initiated by W3C Members


          Rapid finish to produce an XG Report in under one year


          Smooth transition to the W3C Recommendation Track, if desired and approved


          Use of W3C infrastructure (mailing lists, communications tools, Web site) and consensus-building within W3C culture.

One reason the project has been launched as an Incubator Activity rather than as a formal W3C initiative intended to pregress to a Recommendation (a W3C standard) appears to be that the feasibility of the effort remain to be demonstrated.  According to the activity page:

    Through consultation with potential users as well as experts on emotion research, the XG will investigate whether a sufficient degree of normation can be achieved at this stage, and whether the resulting specification can add value to other markup languages, e.g. in the form of a specialised plug-in language. Accordingly, the group will either terminate its activity after its lifetime or continue in the more formal Recommendation Track.

Of interest to the challenge of creating an IT based language to represent emotions is that Incubator process contemplates that outside experts will be invited to participate.  In this case, the project will build on the earlier work of a European-based "network of excellence" called the Human-Machine Interaction Network on Emotion (HUMAINE), which recently released its own HUMAINE Emotion Annotation and Representation Language (reassuringly named EARL, rather than, say, Human Annotation Language, which would have yielded the unfortunate acronym "HAL") 

The Project Summary of HUMAINE also acknowledges that the feasibility and utility of emotion-based annotations remain to be confirmed:

    HUMAINE aims to lay the foundations for European development of systems that can register, model and/or influence human emotional and emotion-related states and processes - 'emotion-oriented systems'. Such systems may be central to future interfaces, but their conceptual underpinnings are not sufficiently advanced to be sure of their real potential or the best way to develop them. One of the reasons is that relevant knowledge is dispersed across many disciplines.

According to the W3C Activity summary, the new effort was proposed by HUMAINE, and several members of the new activity are HUMAINE members (only one of the currently listed Sponsoring Members is from the US, while six are European, and one is last is Chinese).

Some final details:

From the Scope statement:

    Emotion-oriented (or "affective") computing is gaining importance as interactive technological systems become more sophisticated. Representing the emotional states of a user or the emotional states to be simulated by a user interface requires a suitable representation format. Although several non-standard markup languages containing elements of emotion annotation have been proposed, none of these languages have undergone thorough scrutiny by emotion researchers, nor have they been designed for generality of use in a broad range of application areas.

    The Emotion Incubator Group will discuss and propose scientifically valid representations of those aspects of emotional states that appear to be relevant for a number of use cases. The group will condense these considerations into a formal draft specification.


    The Emotion Incubator Group will discuss and propose scientifically valid representations of those aspects of emotional states that appear to be relevant for a number of use cases. The group will condense these considerations into a formal draft specification.

    A report that describes the work done by the XG. The report will provide:

        * a draft specification for an Emotion Annotation and Representation Language;

        * illustrations of annotations in a number of use cases;

        * suggestions on how this language could be used as a plug-in to existing W3C standards.

It will be very interesting to see what emerges from this activity over the next year, both in an absolute sense, as well as a demonstration of how flexible and extensible XML itself may be.  Until, then, I guess you should hang on to your emoticons.

Still, if this effort doesn't prove the point about the versatility of XML, you might like to check out the announcement of an initiative to create the Tsunami Warning Markup Language.

Perhaps a mashup between that language and the Emotion Language could save a marriage.  ;- )


Pode parece estranho mas faz todo o sentido. Todos os dias vemos novas formas de representação dos emoticons (imagens utilizadas para expressar emoções através de texto) e isso pode ser uma desvantagem. Se se criar um standard da representação dos emoticons, será mais fácil para todos integrá-los nos nossos websites.

Como exemplo temos a discrepância entre a forma de representação do phpBB para o SMF. Basta testarem, para ver como tudo isto faz sentido...


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