Friday, August 29, 2008

Striking the Stupid Speechless -- Yes!!!11!!!!

I bookmarked Mark Morford's column "Notes and Errata" (San Francisco Chronicle, here) a couple of years ago, because he is often pretty funny. Lately I haven't read him as much because of adjective overload, but this caught my attention and stirred a little teacup of hope in my heart.
Purging The Stupid

Finally, software that zaps the most obnoxious Web chatter...

Are you a terrible speller? Mentally primordial? Mean-as-a-snake Republican? Dick Cheney?

Are you fetishistically fond of posting puerile, unreadable, horribly punctuated, grammatically insane or otherwise indecipherable mental chyme all over the Web's now-ubiquitous comments boards, filling the public areas from here to Metafilter with OMG!! And !LOL!!! and ALL-CAPPED GIBBERISH that means absolutely nothing and is the conversational equivalent of dragging Ann Coulter across a chalkboard?

Well, the world has had just about enough of you.

Behold, as today's entry for the most brilliant-yet-unassuming innovation that just might change the planet: the YouTube Comment Snob, created by a humble Lutheran programmer named Chris Finke.

Like most genius ideas, The Snob is almost frighteningly simple: It is merely a tiny Firefox browser extension that works to filter out the most childish, overpunctuated, all-capped, horribly grammared, or otherwise useless comments that clog up the YouTube comments boards.

I know what you're thinking: Who the hell cares about YouTube comments boards? Hell, if you've ever taken even a cursory glance into that teenage e-wasteland, you know: the place is an intellectual pit, pure verbal slop, quite possibly the lowliest repository of moronic comments on the entire Interwebs, all seemingly designed for the sole purpose of making you feel very sad indeed about the state of grammar, mental acuity and the English language in America.

[...see what I mean?... -Noni]

But this column is not about YouTube. This is about the Comment Snob filter itself -- or rather, the idea it inspires. Because let us imagine that we -- and by "we" of course I mean "some other brilliant software engineers out there who are clearly not me" -- develop the Snob's idea a bit more fully, make it into a free product, and give it away to a desperate and wary world.

It's a sad truism: With the exception of the most heavily moderated sites, much of the new wave of user-generated e-media has become a giant conversational dumpster. ... Despite years of defending the Web as an egalitarian free-for-all wonderland, I now tend to agree with "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, who said, "Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet."


... imagine a customizable filter set on your end. Something that lets you adjust how many times you see "ROTFLMAO!!!!" or OMG LOLCATS!?!?" or entire posts written in those SCREAMING CAPS, or even those right-wing nutjobs who gleefully try to bait you and talk up "yoo commie liberal faggits are ded go McAinn!!!!." All gone.


"So unless I spell and punctuate and use grammar correctly, I get punished," says one timorous commenter in response to The Snob's existence. Well, yes. Then again, it also means the exact opposite: Write more clearly, spell check, use your brain and a single exclamation point instead of 12, and you get the "reward" of participating in a conversation among reasonably intelligent adults. Call it an incentive.

"OMG, this software is so elitist!" whines another. And OMG sweetie, you're so right -- if, by "elitist," you mean "coherent." Or "intelligible." ... Sweet Jesus with a dangling modifier, when did it become desirable to lower intellectual standards to pond level and allow all manner of grunt and spit and screaming verbal troglodytes into the conversation? Oh right. Bush 43.

Lest you think such a product too draconian ...consider: The religious right has been doing this for millennia... Now it is merely the smart people's turn to filter out the unintelligible and the incoherent and the useless .... And I think we have a far better chance of success. Why? Well, because it's already here.

Behold: The StupidFilter Project. Oh my yes.

StupidFilter is designed to do everything the Snob does, only better, faster, cleaner -- and maybe, just maybe, for the entire Web itself.

Its creators are apparently quite serious. StupidFilter is open-source, usable on any blog or wiki or media site anywhere. There's an official site. There's source code under GNU General Public License. There appears to even be some venture capital funding. Best of all: It's already in beta. Isn't that beautiful?

Could it work? Could anti-imbecile software radically improve the very quality and nature of conversation on the once-glorious Net for all time everywhere? OMFG, let us pray.

I second that motion.

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