Is the Internet getting smarter, or is it just ignoring stupidity? It could be a little of both if the founders of the StupidFilter Project have their way.
Gabriel Ortiz, a Linux enthusiast, and Paul Starr, a novelist and scholar, were tired of tolerating the stupid content that appears to be growing on the Web. They decided to fight back with an open-source filter software that can detect rampant stupidity in written English. Termed the "StupidFilter Project," this tool is set to launch this month, January '08, and will give Web users a method for determining what content is legitimate and what is "stupid."
The source-code filter, intended to help users weed out worthless Internet content, can be incorporated into Websites, content
management systems, blogs, wikis, and the like. A fully implemented
Firefox plug-in and a Wordpress plug-in are also expected to come later.
So what process does this filter use to determine what is stupid? The StupidFilter will look for things that are characteristically stupid and weigh them according to how often they occur. Currently, hand-picked examples of idiotic comments are graded by moderators who rank them on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being least stupid, and 5 being most stupid. Moderators are told to be especially cognizant of the fact that they are ranking form, and not content. Eventually, the creators plan to release a core engine source
code for the filter, which will include weighted Bayesian or similar
analysis and some rules-based processing, similar to spam detection
As Ortiz put it, "A passionate defense of Britney Spears' status as 'The Queen of Pop' cannot be marked stupid simply because of the commenter's arguably poor musical taste." Moderators will look for punctuation and grammatical errors, excessive emoticon or acronym use, and pervasive misspelling, which Ortiz says are "the earmarks of careless composition or simple inability to effectively wield language."
From my perspective, there are a lot of stupid posts and a lot of stupid people on the Web. This should come as no surprise to anyone. If it does, you are probably one of those people.
Now, before you slam me for being insensitive, I'm not talking about your grandmother who just got online last week, nor am I talking about someone who struggles to communicate with English as a second (or third) language. I am talking about the people who, for example, post messages using a form of "stupid shorthand" to communicate. I'm referring to those excessive abusers of too many text messages and popular abbreviations -- from LOL (Laugh Out Loud) to BRB (Be Right Back).
I asked Ortiz about his goals for filtering egregiously stupid comments and the impact it might have on the Internet. "I'm really hoping that even with moderate uptake of this concept, whether or not my particular implementation sees widespread usage, this idea will improve the discourse on the Internet in general," he said.
Ortiz sees the StupidFilter Project as having something of a cohesive effect on the evolution of written English. "In my more hubris-filled daydreams, I hope that it will save us from a Tower of Babel type situation where incomprehensible Balkanization of the language occurs," explains Ortiz. As the project site reminds us, the Internet needs prophylactics for mimetically transmitted diseases (information corrupted by stupidity).
So what happens if the StupidFilter project becomes really popular and influential? Would Ortiz ever be tempted to filter out an ex-friend for being terminally stupid? "Our principles are to adhere strictly to form over content, so we're going to try to prevent any kind of bias," says Ortiz. "But if some kind of bias were to creep in, it's always possible for someone to fork the code and start a competing filter."
That's the beauty of open source, I suppose.
Out here in the ether, we have been treading water for years on a virtual "Sea of Stupidity." It is gratifying to see that someone is finally starting to build a raft to help us float above it all. This is a key trend that will become much more important as time moves on.
— Ken Trough, Social network moderator and technology expert