As part of his industrial placement with BT, Saul Albert worked with The People Speak to develop Heckle, a twitter-like web-service that captures the comments, asides, and discussion generated by an audience to annotate video content.

Analysis of automated transcripts of these conversations showed the degree to which people’s comments related to the TV content (characters, plot developments and production entities), and to what extent they related to the organisation of activity in the local context (crisps, drinks, sofa arrangements etc.), and looked for differences in frequency, peaks and other pragmatic detail evident in the data indicating to what extent this transcript functioned as media metadata.

A more qualitative approach assessed the its amenability of this data to conversation analysis, looking for evidence of turn-taking sequences, and various forms of conversational repair. This measure of ‘conversationality’ functioned as an evidence-based stand-in for the over-applied term ‘social’ often used to refer to mediated web-based communication.

There’s a working copy of the Msc thesis based on this research available here.

Saul Albert is a researcher in QMUL's Cognitive Science research group.

Current research topic: Accounting for taste: aesthetic assessment in conversation

The intuition that aesthetic responses are ’subjective’, individual reactions to specific sensory stimuli often motivates research into the neural, cognitive or physiological underpinnings of aesthetic response. However, these approaches often ignore the wealth of information about people’s aesthetic responses available in social interactions and conversations around viewing or discussing artworks. This research uses Conversation Analytic techniques to explore the ways in which aesthetic assessments are accomplished in conversation, focussing on a corpus of natural conversational fragments between visitors, recorded during an exhibition at the Tate Modern gallery in London.