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Working on a Unified Code for 'LOL' or :)

Hoping to eliminate human misunderstanding in communication, OASIS, the XML interoperability consortium, Tuesday announced it has formed a committee to promote a specification for conveying human characteristics through XML.

The OASIS HumanMarkup Technical Committee (TC) will work to develop Human Markup Language (HumanML), a schema for embedding contextual human characteristics -- cultural, social, kinesic (body language), psychological and intentional features -- within information. OASIS said HumanML would have applications in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, conflict resolution, psychotherapy, art, workflow, advertising, cultural dialogue, agent systems, diplomacy and business negotiation.

For instance, Ranjeeth Kumar Thunga, chair of the HumanMarkup TC and the motivating force behind HumanML, told InternetNews.com that in psychology, HumanML could be used to:

  • Sort, index, and file patient psychological records based on cultural background, personality, type of pyschological disorder
  • Provide containers to embed culturally, contextually specific information that may be relevant in psychological diagnoses
  • Provide recommended specifications to express both culturally specific, neurolgically specific, belief specific, DSM-IV specific breakdowns.

As for body language, Thunga said kinesic information could be embedded as metadata.

"The most obvious application is as a higher level markup language for virtual reality," Thunga said. "The simplest way to think of it would be XML tags for gestures, including <smile>, <frown>, <wave>, <kneel> tags."

However, Thunga said HumanML would be able to go far beyond those relatively simple designations.

"Our effort hopes to include multiple layers of modules and constraints to enable rendering 'human' (rather than 'artificial') kinesics," he said. "Thus an 'excited smile' would be differentiated from a 'lethargic smile,' and 'Indian hand wave' would be differentiated from an 'American hand wave,' and an 'Italian scream' would be differentiated from an 'Amazon tribal yell' -- thus, contextually specific kinesics.

Internet users have already developed an informal and rudimentary system to achieve some of this, according to Ranjeeth Kumar Thunga, chair of the HumanMarkup TC and the motivating force behind HumanML. Examples include emoticons like :), ;P and :(. They also include acronyms like LOL.

"These efforts certainly help convey some human qualities," Thunga said in his proposal for HumanML. "They have enhanced human expression, but their benefits are informal, non-standard and ultimately limited. However, with the current XML framework we now have, we can finally integrate much deeper human aspects within our communication. The result will be a substantial enhancement in the quality of human communications, and the elimination of much misunderstanding in society."

Thunga said the HumanMarkup TC will work to define and refine vocabularies that capture human characteristics of communication, and also to define and refine standard communication frameworks within XML for different human communication settings (i.e. speeches, debates, counseling sessions, etc.).

"HumanML offers the potential to reduce misinterpretation and allows people to express themselves more deeply," Thunga said. "Employing the same infrastructure and technology used in business-to-business transactions, HumanML lets us define and elucidate the various subtle, complex human processes involved in communication. Using HumanML, we can substantially reduce interpersonal and intersocietal conflicts associated with the inadequate conveyance of human traits and expression."

Thunga explained, "Subtle, complex human signals are misread, misinterpreted, not presented clearly, not conveyed properly, or simply ignored. This is the cause of various conflicts throughout the ages and day-to-day."

OASIS said other efforts, which address overall concerns of representing and amalgamating human information within data, also fall within the HumanMarkup TC's scope. These include messaging, style, alternate schemas, constraint mechanisms, object models and repository systems.

"HumanML is an exciting example of the breadth of technical work being undertaken by OASIS members," said Karl Best, director of technical operations for OASIS. "Unlike standards bodies that dictate direction through a central authority, OASIS offers an open technical agenda that is set by our members themselves. HumanML extends the use of XML into totally new arenas and offers the potential to affect the way we communicate with one another."

Other contributors to the HumanML discussion include Len Bullard and Rex Brooks -- for the pre-OASIS discussion, according to Thunga -- and Joseph Norris, Manos Batsis, Andrew "kiwano" Reitemeyer and Sean B. Palmer.

OASIS said participation in the HumanMarkup TC is open to all employees of OASIS member companies and all OASIS individual members. The consortium will host an open mail list, humanmarkup-comment@lists.oasis-open.org, for public comment on HumanML.