In Search of Social Television

In Search of Social Television

Gunnar Harboe (Motorola, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-656-3.ch001
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This chapter provides an introduction to and overview of social television, in an attempt to find the real meaning of the term. It explores the history and current state of social television, looks at a number of examples of Social TV systems and their features, compares different definitions of the term, and outlines dimensions of design that have been used to organize the topic. The author argues that historically the notion of social television is intimately bound up with television itself, and that the two remain difficult to separate even today. The convergence of content and communication to create social media is turning Social TV into a reality and in the process turning television into what it was originally intended to be.
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It is difficult, if not impossible, to establish where the concept of social television first originated. In one form or another it predates television itself. In the late nineteenth century, long before video and communication technologies crystallized into their familiar modern forms, science fiction writers such as Albert Robida dreamt up extraordinary devices like the all-purpose telephonoscope; television, videoconference terminal and proto-Internet browser all in one screen. Truly a converged technology! Among its many functions, the telephonoscope allowed audiences to experience theatrical performances in their homes and share the experience with other viewers as if sitting in the same theater:

“So, one can applaud?” asked Barnabette.

“Of course!” Mr. Ponto replied. “Home viewers can also offer their own [applause]. Here, let me connect out to the theater. You may applaud, if you wish.”

“So,” a laughing Barbe inquired, “we could also send out boos if we wished to?”

“Definitely not!” answered Mr. Ponto. “That’s forbidden! You understand that if expressions of disapproval were permitted, any practical joker could disturb the shows from their own armchairs.”

“But then,” Barbe continued, “home viewers who find the play boring are not entitled to let it be known? That’s quite unpleasant; one must repress one’s feelings and keep them to oneself.”

“Absolutely not, you silly girl. The home viewer may boo to his heart’s content whenever a play bores him, but he must make sure to shut off the connection to the theater. Thus he can express his bad mood without causing any disturbance to the theater.” (Robida, 1882/2004, pp. 55–56)

Social television-like technologies, particularly variations on video telephony, went on to become a staple of science fiction. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell provides an especially sinister example:

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