B'luru unit of Web Observatory unravels word psychology truths

Analyses use of words online to understand social behaviour

The International Institute of Information Technology - Bangalore (IIIT-B) is hosting India’s first ever node (centre) of a global Web Observatory based out of Southampton University, UK.

The Web Observatory (WO) is a globally distributed grid of computers that host, curate, analyse and interconnect data related to the web from across the world. The objective of the grid is to support research in Web Science and provide a test bed for algorithms, theories and models pertaining to the dynamics of the web. It is very similar to a climate or wildlife observatory which collects data on climate and wildlife for analysis.

The WO at IIIT-B is the sixth node in the grid and the first in India. It is also the first situated outside of the founding member nations of the WO project. Two more nodes are planned in Singapore and Australia. Dr Srinath Srinivasa of the IIIT-B told Deccan Herald that the “main work of the observatory will be to analyse how the web is affecting humans all over the world. We are looking at how web science influences policy-making, business operations, social living and society and social psychology. The impact of the web is not understood as much as it needs to be.”

Srinivasa described the functioning of the group. “We observe activities of the web over a period of time and then make data sets out of that. We make available these data sets for research to understand how the web influences us. Teams of people read the data and come out with patterns which will give us clues about decision-making across domains.”  For instance, the team in Bengaluru has developed data sets about words used in Wikipedia.

“We have analysed the usage of words in Wikipedia - what words have been used along with other words, how certain words happen to be used with other words frequently, why certain words co-occur with particular words, etc. Overall we look at the functioning of words and build data around that. We get to understand word psychology and why certain expressions are used as against others by people,” says Srinivasa.

Understanding word psychology is crucial because one gets to know why certain words like genius, incredible, amazing are used by people to describe the activities of others. The word “genius” was used most frequently in the media during the career of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to capture all his brilliance. This, experts say, influences people to think of Tendulkar only as a “genius”. When certain words are pushed into the mainstream, people get influenced by the words, the language used and tend to imitate them. This way one understands how and why mimicry happens on a large scale. Violence depicted in films is also another instance of how youngsters mimic characters in films - the repeated broadcast of violence and use of certain words and phrases creates and intensifies mimicry. The observatory project would be looking at such matters and by analysis of language, would help in the better understanding of social behaviour, enabling societies to take corrective steps as and when necessary.

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