MIT team create GIF catalogue to document online emotional language

10 Mar 2014

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Users are given a choice to determine which GIFs are most appropriate

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A team of MIT researchers are undertaking a project aimed at making the animated image format, GIF, into a catalogue of searchable emotional responses online.

Have you ever seen a post made by someone online and wanted to show your happiness/shock/anger but couldn’t quite put it into words? Then at some point you may have used a GIF as your response.

The 20-year-old image file has grown in popularity in the social media age among people who find it much easier and more apt as a response to something, with celebrity reaction and TV shows the most common source of a GIF’s content.

The project known as GIFGIF is being led by Travis Rich and Kevin Hu, research students at MIT’s Media Lab, with the help of Place Pulse, a data research team.

According to their website, they give a humorous take on why they feel the GIF image is something that is important enough to be catalogued in such a way.

“Because GIFs are awesome. Also, we’re hoping to answer some really interesting questions. Does a GIF’s emotional variance impact how it’s received? (We have a hunch that emotional variance is why :) is pretty acceptable but ;) is typically an awkward mix of creepy/sexy/playful/pirate-y). Does a GIF’s emotional content vary between cultures? For example, what is the best representation of happiness for Germans, compared to a Canadian’s impression?

“And certainly let’s not forget, we just want to build a better way to find GIFs that capture that exact emotion you’re looking for.”

The person searching for the GIF can also fine-tune his or her emotional search by using the polygon, which will allow a more detailed response based off the GIF database of more than 3,000 GIFS and counting.

Users are encouraged to make the results more accurate by being given a choice of two GIFs and asked which is most appropriate to a particular emotional response, eg, relief, and the algorithm will adjust to the findings.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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