UC-Berkeley’s Center for New Media’s Opinion Space, launched Wednesday, offers an alternative to existing comment lists on news and commercial websites. "Linear [comment] lists are often dominated by extreme postings that can oversimplify and overshadow the rich variety of viewpoints," said Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs. As an alternative to linear lists, Opinion Space “encourages people to express their opinions and lets them visualize where they stand relative to the diversity of other viewpoints.” Opinion Space uses collaborative filtering to map users'


It is “designed to go beyond one-dimensional polarities such as left/right, blue/red,” – polarities which limit discussion, according to one of the program’s developers, Ken Goldberg, director of the Berkeley Center for New Media – “to actively encourage dialogue between people with differing viewpoints.”

To use Opinion Space, users respond to a series of propositions such as "Gasoline at $0.99 a gallon would be good for Americans" and "President Obama should meet with any interested foreign leaders without preconditions,” using a slider to indicate their level of accord.

After the proposition, users reply to an open-ended question, creating their comment for the grid.

The application then maps the user’s responses (the degree to which they agree or disagree with a proposition) on a 2-D matrix that shows the user’s relation to others’ opinions via proximity, as well as their relation to the views of public figures like Nancy Pelosi, Ralph Nader, Rush Limbaugh and Arnold Schwarzenegger, views extrapolated from their public stances.

Users scroll over the points on the map to read other users’ opinions.

Opinion Space uses Principal Component Analysis (PCA) from advanced mathematics, to project multiple opinions onto two-dimensional space while still approximating their relations to others.

This rhizomatic opinion spectrum will further facilitate collaboration, said Jay Walsh, Wikimedia.com’s head of communications.

"Massive collaboration is driven by passionate people with divergent viewpoints who come from all walks of life,” Walsh said.

“UC Berkeley's 'Opinion Space' is an exciting new visual model that helps people learn about and interact with each other," Walsh added. "This kind of mutual awareness could have far-reaching implications."

By Mark Alvarez