Be Unique. Or Else.

Randall Munroe, of XKCD fame, just posted a very interesting blag entry (sic) about an interesting way to ensure that IRC discussion remain unique and thoughtful. The idea itself is very simple, and I sure did get the slightly annoying feeling of “damn-this-is-obvious” when reading the post. The trick is that, as far as I know, the technique hasn’t been actually implemented ever before. Here’s the basic concept :

And then I had an idea — what if you were only allowed to say sentences that had never been said before, ever? A bot with access to the full channel logs could kick you out when you repeated something that had already been said. There would be no “all your base are belong to us”, no “lol”, no “asl”, no “there are no girls on the internet”. No “I know rite”, no “hi everyone”, no “morning sucks.” Just thoughtful, full sentences.

Somebody in the post’s comments already asked if the same could be applied to [blog] comments. The answer is obviously “yes”. Be it a blog, a forum or a social media site, checking new commentary against the database of existing discourse would be almost trivial. I’m sure it would nicely complement the algorithms used by the StupidFilter project (currently offline), when they finally become available to the general public.

In fact, why not go all the way? Check every chat line/post/comment against Copyscape, start assigning “originality ratings” and revel in smug elitist glory! Not saying it’s a bad thing, mind you 😉 I would really like if some of the forums I visit did this, so that I wouldn’t have to sift through endless one-word “lol” posts and comments consisting entirely of smileys to finally get to a piece of meaningful discussion.

And now, a more serious and global perspective on this. It’s no secret that nowadays almost everyone is suffering from information overload, and most of the “information” is actually useless noise. “Info-crud”, it takes time to process and has no actual value. In most cases, repetitive “First!!” comments and references to pop-culture or current memes belong to this category as well. Stopping them, as the aforementioned bot does, is a step in the right direction, but it wouldn’t always work in other niches and isn’t practical in the long run. Furthermore, some free-speech fans would likely protest.

A flexible, client-controlled filter is more appropriate. Like antispam filters now protect our inboxes and blogs from unwanted advertising, in the future there will be much more advanced filters that will protect us from useless information. Assuming that both the total amount of human knowledge an communication intensity continue growing at the same breakneck speed, it is simply unavoidable that we will require automated filters to deal with the non-stop streams of data.

It’s already happening, though it may not seem obvious yet. After all, one of the main benefits of “Web 2.0” user-driven sites is that they act as filters to povide you with the most interesting (=valuable) stories, video, images, people and so on.

And trying to circumvent these filters would improve creativity 🙂

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One Response to “Be Unique. Or Else.”

  1. One of the key features that I like in highly trafficked websites and blogs is the capacity for each visitor to up-rank or down-rank other people’s posts. The “first” post rubbish quickly gets down-ranked, and the good sites apply a fade affect so that its not foremost in your screen when you scan through the content.

    It also helps trolls, rude folks, or inappropriate content get submerged below your attention span.

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