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Berkeley's Opinion Space Maps Online Comments

New visualization tool groups like-minded commentators into "opinion clusters" to facilitate better communication.

The Berkeley Center for New Media at the University of California, Berkeley, has launched a new visualization and mapping system to encourage dialogue between Internet users who post comments online.

"Opinion Space" is an experimental opinion visualization system that represents people's viewpoints in relation to each other. Opinions appear as stars in a constellation that puts like viewpoints together and differing opinions farther apart.

"New tools are needed to actively engage online groups in dialogue and decision-making on topics ranging from art to public policy to zoology," U.C. Berkeley Professor Ken Goldberg, who is on the team that's developing the system, said in a statement released Wednesday.

Users can manipulate a sliding scale to show how much they agree or disagree with statements. They can type their answers to a discussion question, which changes every two weeks, and see others' opinions. Users can show if their opinions change. They can also read and rate others' comments.

"Massive collaboration is driven by passionate people with divergent viewpoints who come from all walks of life," Wikimedia communications director Jay Walsh said in a prepared statement. "UC Berkeley's Opinion Space is an exciting new visual model that helps people learn about and interact with each other. This kind of mutual awareness could have far-reaching implications."

The first Opinion Space constellations and discussion questions focus on U.S. politics. Eventually, they'll also cover the economy, education, and the environment. Berkeley researchers plan to refine the system, adding new functions and features while users participate.

"Linear lists are often dominated by extreme postings that can oversimplify and overshadow the rich variety of viewpoints," Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs, said in a prepared statement.

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