Collective Editorial: the Plugin

Published 11 years, 2 weeks past

As I was reading an article with a few scattered apostrophe errors, I wished that I could highlight each one, hit a report button, and know that the author had been notified of the errors so that they could fix them.  No requirement to leave a comment chastising them for bad grammar, replete with lots of textual context so they could find the errors — just a quick “hey, I spotted this error, now you know so you can fix it” notice, sent in private to them.

Then I realized that I wanted that for my own site, to let people tell me when I had gaffes in need of repair.  It’s an almost-wiki, where the crowd can flag errors that need to be corrected without having to edit the source themselves — or have the power to edit it themselves, for that matter, which is an open door for abuse.

I haven’t thought this through in tons of detail, but here’s how it feels in my head:

  • Visitors highlight a typo and click a button to report it.  Or else click a button to start reporting, highlight a word, and click again to submit.  This part is kind of fuzzy in my head, and yes, “click” is not the best term here, but it’s one we all understand.
  • Interesting extra feature: the ability to classify the type of error when reporting.  For example: apostrophe, misspelling, parallelism, pronoun trouble.
  • Other interesting extra feature: the ability to inform users of the ground rules before they report.  For example: “This site uses British punctuation rules, the Oxford comma, and American spelling.”  (Which I do.)
  • The author gets notice whenever an error is reported, or else can opt for a daily digest.
  • Each notice lets the author quickly accept or reject the reported error, much as can be done with edits in MS Word and similar programs, along with a link that will jump the author straight to the reported error so they can see it in context.  If rejected, future reports of that word are disabled.  If accepted, the change is made immediately, without requiring a dive into the CMS.
  • When an error is reported, future visitors to the site will see any already-reported errors in highlight.  This keeps them from reporting the same thing over and over, and also acts as incentive to the author to fix errors quickly.  (The highlight style could be customizable.)
  • Reports can only happen at the word level, not the individual letter level.  So reporting an “it’s” error highlights all of “it’s”, not just the offending apostrophe.  Perhaps also for multiple words, though only up to a certain number, like three.  And yes, I’m keenly aware of the challenges of defining a “word” in an internationally-aware manner, but perhaps in ideographic languages you switch to per-symbol.  (Not an expert here, so take that with a few grinders of salt.)
  • The author can optionally limit the number of reports permitted per hour/day/whatever.  This could be enforced globally or on a per-user basis, though globally is a tad more robust.

That’s how I see it working, after a few minutes’ thought.  It seems pretty achievable as a CMS plugin, actually, though I confess that I don’t have anywhere close to the time and coding chops needed to make it happen right now (or any time soon).  The biggest challenge to me seems like the “edit-on-accept-without-CMS-diving” part, since there are so many CMSes and particularly since static sites are staging a comeback.  Still, I think it would be a fun and worthwhile project for someone out there.  If somebody takes it on, I’d love to follow along and see where it ends up, particularly if they do it for WordPress (which is what the blog hereabouts runs on).

Comments (16)

  1. Could be neat. Might be best as a favelet so those of us who are so inclined could install it, but it wouldn’t clutter the interface.

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  3. That sounds like an awesome plugin for the Smallest Federated Wiki

  4. You just described GitHub pull requests!

  5. Sounds like you’re looking for something like the MediaBugs widget?

    (I’ve had that on file since reading about it at journalism site Regret the Error, which has also described a similar thing for submitting corrections to tweets. There’s even a standard icon.)

  6. Shouldn’t be terribly hard to put together. The only real tricky part that comes to mind is the in-context identification of errors. For instance, if a post uses “it’s” when “its” is intended but in other places uses “it’s” correctly, there would be a need to determine how to distinguish the specific word flagged for a typo. Since individual words are not tagged, this could be tricky, but some possible approaches come to mind.

  7. Peter J.: it’s something like the MediaBugs widget, except from what I can tell the widget requires the visitor to type out a description of where to find the error. So, at least from the visitors’ perspective, think MediaBugs except concentrated solely on spelling/grammar errors, plus the core ability to click on a word to mark it as the object of the report, and no need for typing. Just click, click, click, at a maximum.

  8. I’ve actually had 80% of the same idea myself. Been batting it around for years. Maybe I’ll have some time over the summer to tackle it as a WordPress plugin!

    Some thoughts:

    The “highlights” shouldn’t show up unless someone enters the correction mode. Otherwise there is too much potential for people to use it as graffiti.

    There should be something in the comments form to keep people from submitting corrections there. Otherwise old habits will take over. Maybe have people choose between comment and correction first. Bonus: hides the comment form, which can be a lot of UI in the face of someone who just wants to read.

  9. Until your tweet earlier, I had forgotten about GooseGrade, which was extremely close to what you’re describing, bookmarklet and all:

    “GooseGrade Uses Crowdsourcing To Edit Website Copy”

    “GooseGrade Brings Citizen Editing to WordPress Blogs”

    I remember it being easy to use. Fun, even. You selected the objectionable text, clicked on the bookmarklet, and could submit a suggested correction.

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  11. Try Orphus.

  12. Have you seen the Google+ Feedback mechansim ?

    Gives options to highlight and blackout portions of the page – with a text field for a description / instructions etc…

    Submits “privately” (as private as Google can muster).

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  14. you mean, as an example: amoong, on your CSS page under Books by Eric?

  15. An excellent example, Jerry. Thanks for the catch!

  16. Well, this really is odd. I was surprised to find the typo I pointed out in the previous post. I surely didn’t think I’d find another. I actually had to laugh to myself that there was another. It just kind of popped up when I revisited your site a few minutes ago.

    hexadmical- this may be a new tech term, but if it’s not, you can change it in the Color Equivalents table in the description. Honestly, Eric, this isn’t a vendetta or something crazy like that. Just helping out where I know you’d appreciate the feedback.

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