Us+ by Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald, hangout confidential.


US + is a plug-in for the popular video chat service Google Hangout, born from the collaboration between Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald. After the very easy installation,US + appears in the chat window as a simple application. Users see a side box with two classic emoticons (orange and blue) that identify the two speakers. In the bottom area of the app window one bar chart describes a series of moods: positivity, self-absorption, femininity, aggression, honesty. At the beginning of the conversation the two emoticons are inexpressive (the line that describes the lips is horizontal) and the bars in the chart are monochrome. When someone starts talking these elements start their transformation. If one speaker smiles the corresponding emoticon smiles too (and vice versa), thanks to facial recognition implemented in the app. Even the bar graph goes into action: the bars indicate the percentage of the words that belong to the preselected moods, reflecting the speech of the two parties. The use of the LIWC text analysis software (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count) makes this possible: it examines the vocabulary and calculates the occurrences and types of words used by each user (previously converted into text by Chrome Speech API). The information obtained is then poured in the graph indicating the respective percentage of positivity, self-absorption, femininity, aggression and honesty in the user’s conversation. But US+ was not only created to analyse and represent the conversation in progress. A lot of pop-up text messages constantly appear in the videochat window saying things like “stop talking about yourself so much” or “try to be more positive”. There is no risk of boring soliloquies: if you talk too much US+ deactivates the microphone for a few seconds. Presenting itself as an ironic tool for optimization, productivity and generating success in online conversations, US+ probably aims at exasperating an ordinary mechanism: the total reliance on proprietary software for our everyday communication. We could potentially change or turn them off at any time, but we allow their presence in our continuous communication flow even in this intrusive and paradoxical way. Chiara Ciociola