Pulling on a Web string #4-1 | Polysemic graphic visualization


Graphic visualization of what is called the “social TV ecosystem”, that is, the whole socio-technical matrix of what is presented as a new (if not outright revolutionary) way to make and consume television. This “info-graphic” was published by Anne-Marie Roussel on her blog “Edge of Digital Culture“.

This info-graphic, relayed by the Transmedia Lab Facebook page, caught my attention this morning because it concerns a topic I’m quite interested in, particularly since I’ve been correcting the French of a non-native French speaking PhD colleague doing her dissertation on “interactive TV”.  My first reaction was to think that such a global and visual overview of the matrix in which so-called “social television” is evolving could be illuminating. Because one of the main difficulties in studying the present unfolding of new socio-technical contexts, especially in the field of digital entertainment in all shapes, lies in the multiplicity of the actors involved and of their practices.

However, as I began looking at it more closely, I realized that I couldn’t make much out of it, at least, not without some anchoring explanations by the author of this depiction. The whole thing certainly looks pretty and very professional. It also has an appearance of popularization using naive icons reminiscent of old-time childhood games. But when you start paying attention to the actual puzzle pieces, what they contain and how they are embedded into one another, you realize that it doesn’t make much sense to anyone who hasn’t been studying in details the topic it is supposed to summarize. The vocabulary used is very jargonish and understandable only by those who are “initiate”. The name of companies written on the pieces ring no bells to me, probably because I’m not familiar with this particular industry and field. Thinking about the color shades for the pieces, they don’t seem to have any particular reason, except to make every part of the graphic distinguishable from the other, but without any specification about what exactly distinguishes them.  The alternate use of two different shapes for the puzzle pieces doesn’t seem either to have any meaning other than to give the central hole they produce a pretty shape. Finally, the use of an icon representing an old-time TV set, straight out of the 1970’s-1980’s, doesn’t make much sense either, since this kind of technology would have had difficulties handling all our present socio-technical expectations with respect to televisual experience.

Info-graphics are circulating all over the Web and seems to have become the latest in a long line of information visualization fads (especially PowerPoint presentations). Their objective is to condense complex idea that usually request long verbal phrasing into a simple, eye-catching and miraculously synthesizing image that tells it all in one glimpse. Moreover, they are based on the old stereotype that images are a universal language that will speak to everyone in the same way. Apparently, the myriad of studies and artistic experiments about the polysemy inherent in any pictural representation are constantly forgotten or left out. This example, however, demonstrates that image can be literally “puzzling” to anyone who doesn’t hold the keys to decode them and that we don’t all possess the same keys. I’m supposed to be a researcher working on so-called NICT (New Information and Communication Technology) uses and evolution, but since this is actually a huge fields, including thousands of subjects, theories, approaches, methods, fieldworks, angles, etc., there is no way any of us, researchers, can individually hold all the knowledge involved in this multiplicity of researches. So, even though I’m not a newby in field of digital entertainment researches, I just have no idea what the above info-graphics is saying and I doubt that anyone who hasn’t specifically studied “social TV” or worked in the industry that identifies itself with this concept, can understand it much better.

So, I would definitely welcome some “verbal” explanations in order to make sense of this info-graphic.