Conversational Annotation

Conversational Annotation explored the interactional dynamics and potential of ‘Social TV’ audiences. 

Conversational Annotation research poster
Conversational Annotation research poster

As part of an industrial placement with BT I 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 of these mediated conversations revealed 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 could function as media metadata.

A closer 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.  ‘Conversationality’ in these empirical terms interrogated the technology and situations of ‘Social TV’, providing a critical view of the over-applied term ‘social media’ often used to refer to these forms of mediated communication.

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


Links & Credits

  • M.Sc. project co-supervised by Pat Healey at Queen Mary University of London and Andy Gower at BT.
  • Thanks to all the participants in the Dr. Who screenings, Richard Kelly, Toby Harris, and The People Speak.
  • This research was funded by the Digital Economy programme through the Media and Arts Technology Doctoral Training Centre at Queen Mary, University of London

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The Dicshunary

The Dicshunary collected and shared vocabularies used by one person, family, or other micro-language group.

Screenshot from the Dicshunary

Users added their neologisms, definitions and redefinitions, and could create sub-lexicons to host on their own websites. They could even download the code and run their own version.

The dicshunary installed on trash technologyInstalled as a kiosk on recycled computers reclaimed from local skips, dumps and store cupboards, the Dicshunary would capture local place names and micro-dialects from areas near the galleries, schools and public spaces in which it was exhibited.


Credits & Links

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Directionless Enquiries

Directionless Enquiries was a DIY directory enquiries service powered by spontaneous conversation.

Directionless Enquiries

What if you could phone a number in a strange town and get connected to a local who would enjoy telling you about the place… or an expert happy to share information about their hobby? We built a prototype and put the idea to the test.

It actually worked remarkably well – when asked, people tended to be very happy to provide assistance over the phone – as you can hear from this recording of the system in use:


Here is a section from Ivo Gormley’s documentary film Us Now featuring Directionless Enquiries.


Links and Credits


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Respecifying Aesthetics

Accounting for taste in everyday talk

How do we do evaluations in general, and aesthetic judgments in particular? This research project explores these actions as practical procedures in conversation.

Empirical investigations of evaluations where there are no clearly established standards for judgment often turn to aesthetic philosophy to answer questions about how people make subjective yet normative judgments. Studies tend to adopt combinations of ‘internalist’ theories of aesthetic experience, which suggest subjective judgments are normatively produced via universal cognitive or psychological processes, or ‘externalist’ theories, which suggest normativity is habituated by social or cultural factors. The problem for both is how to identify the relevant processes or factors involved in evaluations in any given situation on an empirical basis.


This study uses conversation analytic methods to explore naturally occurring evaluations between visitors to the Tate Modern as they encounter an unconventional artwork. This identifies the interactional procedures of noticing and assessment they use to establish which processes and factors are normatively relevant to participating in each evaluation. These procedures are compared to examples of similarly structured patterns of talk from a large corpus of conversations in diverse settings and demographic groups based on a conversation analytic version of the British National Corpus of Spoken English. The findings show how participants use equivocation as a strategy to involve others in evaluations that can generate the normativity of a judgment through the reflexive accountability of its interactional process. Assessments are also shown to function as evaluative practices alongside noticings and other actions produced via specific retro-sequential patterns in talk as interactionally relevant displays of participants’ cognitive/perceptual states.  This thesis provides a respecification of aesthetics as an interactional practice that enables empirical studies to generalize findings between evaluative contexts, factors and processes by exploring how people establish normative, relevant standards for evaluation in any interactional situation.

This project was supervised by Pat Healey and Graham White and funded by the EPSRC through the Media and Arts Technology Programme, a Research Councils UK Centre for Doctoral Training EP/G03723X/1.

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Tate Conversations

A corpus of naturalistic audio and video recordings of people’s spontaneous interactions as they lean over the balcony of the Turbine Hall, watching and often discussing the action on the floor below during the exhibition of artist Tino Sehgal‘s piece These Associations.

The project aims to build a corpus of data to enable a study (as a component of my PhD with Pat Healey) of the ways people negotiate, assess and account for their experiences and understandings in this context through conversational interaction.

The Tate Modern in London is the most visited gallery in the world, its 3400 square meter Turbine Hall, a vast concrete and steel cuboid chamber, has hosted a large-scale annual contemporary art commission since the gallery opened in the year 2000. Over 20,000 people can visit on a peak day, mostly in small groups, almost all passing through the Turbine Hall, talking and interacting while moving between the restaurants, lecture theatres, shops or the exhibitions held in more conventional gallery spaces on the upper floors.

In 2012 artist Tino Sehgal was commissioned to create an artwork for the Turbine Hall entitled These Associations. Sehgal, a trained choreographer, recruited over 200 paid participants and trained them to perform a series of group movements on the ground floor of the Hall, such as ‘flocking’ and other rule-constrained movements. From July-October 2012, up to 60 participants at a time were employed throughout the opening hours of the gallery to alternate between blending into the crowd, then performing movement sequences, sometimes breaking away from the group to engage visitors in unscripted conversations.

Recordings were made of whomever gathered next to the "recording in progress" sign on the first floor balcony of the Turbine Hall.
Recordings were made of whoever gathered next to the “recording in progress” sign on the first floor balcony of the Turbine Hall.

The recordings did not capture conversations between participants and visitors or focus on those who were directly involved in the piece itself. Instead, a microphone was placed in the centre of the balcony on the first floor of the Turbine Hall. When people came and stood next to the microphone, overlooking the hall and talked, often watching the action on the floor below, we were able to capture their responses to this context interleaved with other topics and issues.

Sehgal has requested that his work is not documented photographically, and I have agreed not to show photographs or video of the piece in my research presentations. However, photography by members of the public was not prohibited during the piece, and Ann Jones has done a nicely illustrated write-up here.

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Who Wants to Be…?

A live game-show where the audience makes up the rules.

Who Wants to Be...?Who Wants to Be…? is a live multi-media game-show where the audience makes up all the rules on the fly. Inspired by legal scholar Peter Suber’s ‘Nomic’ game of self-amendment the show provides a crowd with an ‘ask-the-audience’ voting system, and facilitates discussions and voting on how to modify the rule-making system of the game as they play it – including how to spend the box-office takings. Each new audience has both shaped the gameplay for the next, and on different occasions have voted to collectively buy a woodland in Wales, purchase a generator for a Zambian health clinic, or even plant 3000 trees in the Colombian Amazon.

Who Wants to Be…? has not only entertained theatre audiences, it has also been used as a public decision-making tool to decide how to invest in a much-loved local park and as a large-scale experiment in participatory budgeting for young people in London.

Here is a video from a game held as part of the Newcastle Wunderbar Festival in 2009.

Credits and Links

The following people and organisations were instrumental in supporting, shaping and commissioning various iterations of this project.

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The Distributed Library Project

The Distributed Library Project ontology visualised by Jo Walsh

The Distributed Library Project enabled people to share their books with their neighbourhood.

dlp-screenshotThe project involved developing a website where people could catalogue, lend and borrow from collections of each other’s books, flyers, zines, videos and other ephemera that may have fallen out of print or had never made it into official circulation.

The DLP grew into a network of unique, often obscure collections from social centres, people’s homes, underground cinemas, and other hidden archives around the UK, while the Free Software we built enabled the setting up of sister distributed library catalogues from San Francisco to Islamabad.

The Distributed Library Project ontology visualised by Jo Walsh
The Distributed Library ontology visualised by Jo Walsh


Credits & Links


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World Summit for Free Information Infrastructures

wsfii-draft-t-shirt-julian-badge (WSFII) was a gathering of DIY infrastructure enthusiasts from around the world. WSFII marked the culmination of a series of meetings of Free Wireless Network communities that had sprung up in the wake of the deregulation of the 2.4Ghz citizen wifi spectrum in the 90s. Tinkerers, engineers, artists, community groups and activists had found new ways to use, interpret and deploy technologies on this newly opened bandwidth, and had begun to network internationally. WSFII reinforced the diffusion of this network into a broader ecosystem of complimentary approaches to the self-provision of communication, energy and societal infrastructures. The two-day summit included tracks on Free (as in speech) Money, Open Scientific Data, Free Networks, Free Hardware, Open Licensing, and Creative Commons.     4 One of the most interesting infrastructures created and used at WSFII was ‘The Lime’ community currency. Peter Brownell designed and printed up this event currency especially for WSFII, which was accepted as legal tender in local shops, cafés, pubs and even in the local illicit bar. 10% of whatever was spent in Limes during WSFII was kicked back to the bank, which funded the entire event. WSFII featured the first OKCon (the annual meeting of the Open Knowledge Foundation), and played host to the first  BookSprint, Wireless Networking for Development.

Credits & Links

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One Night Grandstand

Transforming a neighbourhood kick-about into an epic sporting event through the magic of sports commentary.

Commentary box
Phil Parry (BBC London Sport) and a young commentator in action.

The People Speak‘s first commission from Space Studios in 2005 involved training young football commentators and putting on a spectacular one night tournament on the neighbourhood kick-about. With live-action replays on big screens, live commentary from BBC London Sport’s Phil Parry and sound effects, the Ranwell Estate in Bow was transformed into a glamorous stadium for a night. The Crowd

One Night Grandstand has since been developed into a travelling stadium kit, which The People Speak offers as a service as a way of augmenting all kinds of local sporting events.

Links & Credits

  • Fiona Fieber and Tanya Skillen at Space Studios commissioned the first version, and the Chisenhale Gallery who provided space and helped with commentator training.
  • Phil Parry for helped the project and volunteered his time and support.
  • Sacha Edwards and the young people of the Ranwell Estate for playing and supporting their teams so enthusiastically.
  • Frankie Pagnacco (event management), Gio D’angelo (A/V setup and vision mixing), Hektor Kowalski and Jo Ruda (stills camera), Wojciech Kosma (replay/effects system). Gaianova team (event production), Diler Metin, Andy Pagnacco, Jonathan Swain (video camera)

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The University of Openess

The University of Openess (Uo) was an experiment in collaborative research and peer education

Transposing educational tools and techniques from the world of Free Software such as wikis, mailing lists, blogs and IRC into other fields of study, the Uo quickly spawned a Faculty of Cartography, a Faculty of Physical Education, and many more. All researchers had to do was start a page, announce the activities and focus of their faculty, and grow a community of researchers. At a time when these tools were still new to many, the Uo became a thriving community of DIY researchers organising conferences, developing software, publishing papers and building libraries.

The Uo’s first faculty: the Faculty of Unix run by Ian Morrison is still active today.

The Uo Press published several issues of its Journal: The Communications of the Uo:

The Uo was inspired by developments in hacker/DIY culture and new forms of organising information-based labour like Free Software, as well as by artist groups such as the Copenhagen Free University, which organised its self-institutional activities in ways that questioned the political, public and personal implications of global economic and social developments in knowledge production.

The wiki is long dead, but an interesting archive is available on

Links and Credits

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