“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.

“In a professional context, I think it’s a great tool for proofing your own work quickly and easily,” he said. “And it is a good tool for a small, trusted group to edit a longer document. But I think in both cases you’d probably want a final look at the whole document after Bite-Size was done, before sending it out.”

He said that he doesn’t see their system as a way to “replace a good contextual edit, or a good professional proofread, for that matter.” Rather, it’s “one tool in the editing process.”

Like gooseGrade, Bite-Size Edits has received angel funding.

Artificial Proofreader

As much as I warn people about the failings of spellcheckers, the reality is that newsrooms—average users, for that matter—would benefit from better spellcheck software. This is something Dimitri Asonov, a Moscow-based computer scientist, agrees with wholeheartedly.

Asonov began to research computerized spellcheckers after he noticed an alarming number of typos in books and newspapers.

“If you open up a pricey book or upscale magazine or newspaper, it’s strange to see typos,” he told me. “How is it possible that people still tolerate [typos] in upscale products? I was thinking about it quite a lot, and then I started asking people who work in publishing and they told me it is very costly to get rid of all the typos. I was thinking that something has to be done—we are living in the twenty-first century and getting rid of typos shouldn’t be costly.”

He began evaluating published research about computerized spellchecking. As it turns out, there’s been quite a lot of it. He found close to fifty research papers on the topic, going back roughly forty years. And yet the spellcheckers we use every day still manage to miss—and cause—so many typos.

Asonov, who has a Ph.D from Humboldt University in Berlin, previously worked for IBM’s Almaden Research Center in California, as well as a domestic Russian airline. At first, his interest in spellcheckers was just a hobby. Now it’s more than that. He’s developed what he believes is a superior error-detection technology, and he wants people to test it out.

“I developed a technology that helps detect real-word errors which are especially hard to catch for both computer spellcheckers and human proofreaders,” he said. “Based on the experiments, this technology outperforms Microsoft Word significantly both in quality of proofreading and in speed.”

Asonov created a very basic Web site where people can upload a text file and check it using his technology. He’s been testing and improving the system by plugging in RSS feeds from major publications.

“What I’m trying to do now is to gather feedback from people who work in the field,” he said. “I contacted several publishing houses in Moscow and they are figuring out how they can use it in the publishing process. “

Asonov is aware of the loss of copy editors and proofreaders, and hopes his technology can play a role in helping maintain quality standards.

“I hope it can improve or keep quality the same, even though copy editors are being forced [out of jobs] every day, and quality is going down very quickly,” he said. “I’ve had some hard times convincing newspapers to use it. But I explain that that’s [because] they are less sensitive to typos than book publishers are. In newspapers, the first criteria is who is first, not who is typo free.”

No need to check that last statement.

Correction of the Week

Craig Silverman is the editor of RegretTheError.com and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of OpenFile.ca and a columnist for the Toronto Star.