I was reading about political iPhone apps on MediaStyle.ca, a blog maintained by Canadian communications consultant Ian Capstick, when I noticed a strange little badge at the bottom of his post:
I clicked on it and a pop-up window invited me to “Correct grammar, spelling and other errors.” After highlighting text within the post, I was offered a menu from which to identify the type of error I wanted to fix. Then I was given a text box to make my correction.
This simple process had me sitting on the edge of my seat, as I was previously unaware anyone had built an application to help readers suggest corrections. I might be the only person to feel this way, but it was pretty exciting.
With that in mind, here are three quick profiles of error-prevention or correction technologies or services every journalist should keep on their radar. And if you’re aware of other projects that warrant watching, please e-mail me. I want to hear about them.
It turns out the company behind the corrections widget and underlying service, gooseGrade, was profiled by TechCrunch earlier this year. So hopefully the word is getting out. I spoke with the company’s twenty-four-year-old founder and CEO, John Brooks Pounders, this week, and he told me the company plans to rebrand as Editz.com in the next few weeks.
Simply put, they have created a way for Web sites to crowdsource edits and corrections. Web site owners can install the gooseGrade widget in order to have an easy, streamlined method for readers to submit proposed edits or corrections. Then gooseGrade collects and sorts these submissions so the publisher or author can accept or reject the changes. It simplifies the corrections process, which is a very good thing. The company also developed a WordPress plugin that makes the fixing process even faster.
“People are reluctant to fix errors, not because they don’t want to, but because it’s tedious,” Pounders told me.
This is a big issue for news organizations. After a correction is submitted, wires often get crossed inside a newsroom, and the error never gets fixed. On the other side of the equation, people hesitate to submit corrections because they don’t know whom to contact, or they don’t think the organization will follow up. A lot of the time, these fears are well founded. (Just read this report outlining how The Washington Post’s corrections process broke down.)
“People get discouraged if they send something and never hear back,” Pounders said.
He’s right. News organizations rely on the public to submit corrections, yet the process is often unclear or prone to delays and problems. The folks at gooseGrade—their system initially involved grading each page for accuracy—have created what appears to be an easy, workable system to facilitate the collection and application of edits and corrections. I think it could help a lot of news sites.
Right now, anyone can add the widget to their blog or Web site, and people can also sign up individually to suggest edits and corrections, which is made easier by the company’s bookmarklet.
Keeping with the theme of collaborative editing, Bite-Size Edits is a project currently in beta. Rather than pursuing a public form of collaborative post-publication editing, this project aims to help writers get their work edited before it reaches the world at large. People can sign up for an account and then upload their text for review by fellow users. The editing is “bite-sized” because the text is chopped into smaller chunks and fed into the system. Your fellow participants can then edit small sections of text. As of now, two people will read each section of text, and their edits are then fed to the author.
The project is led by Hugh McGuire, Janina Szkut, and Andy MacDonald, and it’s based in Montreal. I’ve known about the project for several months because McGuire and I are acquaintances. He is the founder of LibriVox, the Internet’s largest repository of free audio books, and I wrote about him for The New York Times a few years back.
“The idea behind it is that certain kinds of work can be done well by applying ‘idle time’ in discrete chunks to a problem,” McGuire said. “While Bite-Size Edits is not meant to replace a professional proofreader or copy editor, a text can still be significantly improved. What’s more, we’ll be building in social features which add to the—yes!—fun of proofreading, and connect writers with readers, and editors.”
I asked him if he thinks this model could potentially work in journalism.