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Sunday, May 29, 2005

GEL 2005 - Bob Mankoff

Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Editor for the New Yorker magazine, is doing some interesting research these days. While he has edited The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, in addition to contributing some of his own, he is interested in understanding what it is about a cartoon that makes us laugh.

Mark Hurst interviewed Bob before the conference here.

Bob says:
The experience of humor is similar to the 'ah-ha' moment of two things coming together. For humor, two things have to come together to produce the experience of laughter. Normal and abnormal; these things reconciled in a moment, and usually it's a normal situation violated in some way that we can tolerate. You have to have something normal that becomes abnormal, or something that looks abnormal and then become normal.

Technology plays a key role in Bob's research:
We've started preliminary experiments. We watch with high-speed digital cameras to see where people focus their eyes while looking at a cartoon, how long it takes to understand the cartoon.

Bob showed some examples of these cartoons with the each eye of the reader being tracked as an electrical dot moving over the image. This is amazing stuff to figure out how we laugh, what makes one cartoon funnier than another. Given that the amount of time we have to catch someone's attention, and the cost of the delivery, getting it right the first time would help the process. Conceptually, this is not much different that what Sona Chawla is doing with her users and the Wells Fargo web site in what is clearly a different marketplace.

Or is it?

Is not the mind of the customer the marketplace?

What do you think about this?

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