Mozilla Popcorn: the semantic web made visible

Posted: 02/09/2010 in ARIN6901 Network Society, ARIN6903 Exploring Digital Cultures, Uncategorized
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Developed by Mozilla (the folks who brought you Firefox), Popcorn is a web video application that integrates diverse Web 2.0 tools and applications and makes visible the semantic network of the subjects and objects that appear in a video. It is YouTube revamped, remediated. Through Google’s geolocation tools, it tells you where the video was filmed. Wikipedia offers an entry on the authors and/or subjects depicted on the video. There is also the Twitter feed of the author and of the people that appear onscreen, as well as their Flickr galleries and a Google newsfeed related to the subject matter. A nice add-on is the copyright information of the images, which could indicate if it can be used by a remix artist, for example. Subtitles are also offered in diverse languages.

This application is a visualization of the semantic networks that already exist on the Internet (and, to a larger extent, in our increasingly mediated reality). Furthermore, it fulfills the potential of the Web 2.0 as identified by Harrison & Barthel: “Users build and maintain social networks, they tag and rank information in ‘folksonomies’ and become deeply involved in immersive virtual web experiences. They do all these things in collaboration, pooling knowledge and constructing content that they share with each other, which is subsequently remixed, redistributed and reconsumed.” (2009: 157) However, by providing all this information at once, the application could, at the same time, limit and inhibit the participation of the users, as the information is already ranked and tagged by the program. How much of this “collaboration” will be lost if applications like Popcorn take over the role now held by involved cybernauts?

As well as the aforementioned visualization of some of the semantic relationships a cultural object like a video has in the Internet, Popcorn (still in development) makes evident the increasingly centralized nature of information in the Internet. Google, Twitter, Flickr and Wikipedia (Facebook has not been thrown in the mix) hold, so to speak, the control of knowledge in the digital environment. And not only that: they tend to gain more and more validation. Web 2.0 environments might look like a democratic agora, like the pinnacle of shared knowledge, but they are still governed by oligopolies that rank and distribute information, and whose role in the shaping of this virtual social graph is more important as software develops and consumer practices lean towards multi-platform activities. He who owns the platform will hold the power.

Also, will this be the start of a truly socialized online television practice?

Visit the demo page:

Harrison, T and Barthel, B (2009) “Wielding new media in Web 2.0: exploring the history of engagement with the collaborative construction of media products”, New Media Society,11; 155

For ARIN6901, Network Society, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).


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