A Wondrous Prospect
Purging The Stupid
Finally, software that zaps the most obnoxious Web chatter. Is this the Second Coming?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, August 29, 2008
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 glace into that teenage e-wasteland, you know: he 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.
But this column is not about YouTube. This is about the Comment Snob filter itself Ð- or rather, the idea it inspires. Because let us imagine that we Ð- 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. Overwhelming the handfuls of truly thoughtful people who want to strike up a tolerable conversation about a given issue or article is a nearly unstoppable flood of moronism, grandstanding, baiting, flaming, horrible syntax, intellectual cowardice, mental masturbation, "hella" and DooooD!!! and pwn3d!!!11 omg!!!LOL!! 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."
Even here at SFGate, where our article comments are lightly moderated (translation: overworked, understaffed editors zap inappropriate, racist, sexist, hate-speech comments as best they can -- which, given the sad budgetary state of major media these days, isn't as much as we'd like), even for us, comment abuse is a bit of a problem. And we get some damn smart people in there.
Ah, but now 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.
It gets better. Such a filter could even let you know if something you're about to post is unreadable or violently imbecilic, and give you a chance to make it passably coherent before encouraging you to buy a dictionary or zapping your homophobic spittle-filled butt back to Free Republic. Glorious.
It could be self-adjusting: Set the filter too strict and you might miss out on some decent-enough comments; too loose and you just get annoyed and leave. Ah, but find that verbal sweet spot where fabulous swear words and occasional leaps of rabid exclamation mix with complex, articulate thought, and voila: conversational nirvana.
"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 Ð if, by "elitist," you mean "coherent." Or "intelligible." Or "articulate enough to make you not want to smash yourself in the face with a hammer every goddamn day." 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, Big Brotherish, intellectually dangerous, consider: The religious right has been doing this for millennia, blocking and filtering the dirty, terrifying world in every way possible, from vaginas to curse words, nipples to bodily fluids to porn to the very word "gay." And of course, they have failed spectacularly. Now it is merely the smart people's turn to filter out the unintelligible and the incoherent and the useless -- and, with any luck, those very people described above. 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.
How glorious! How righteous! Being able to punish stupidity: Priceless.