Shane Greenup

Entrepreneur, University of New South Wales

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A website rebuttal tool. A browser extension which indicates when a rebuttal exists to a page which is being browsed.

Numerous times I have found myself looking for a reply to a compelling article which has just been published, but completely unable to find one. Google doesn't index fast enough, or the specific nature of the desired content is too difficult to find through mere keywords. The solution I have come up with is to create a browser extension which allows users to connect replies (specifically rebuttals) that they (or anyone else) have written, to the original articles which they ar rebutting, so that visitors to the original article can easily see and click through to the rebuttal.

While anyone could do it, if the blogging community could get on board with this app, then as soon as some contentious article is posted in a mainstream media website, the blogosphere can react (as it does), and the people who read the contentious article could immediately know about the numerous articles which have been published in reply to it.

And of course, the original perspective could then rebut the rebuttals, and so on - creating a genuine online discourse 'throughout' the internet - rather than just on a single page, or in a single (biased? controlled?) location.

I have been working on an app to do this with a partner for a few weeks now, and have written a lot more on the subject in its blog. Have a look if you are interested in the idea - I think the ramifications of success with this app would be substantial.

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    Feb 17 2012: the problem with it is the lack of industry standards of linking articles. articles do not have a unique and easily accessible identifier these days. URL meant to be it. and on many sites, it is. but on other sites URL-s can change in time, and some URL-s might point to different articles a day later. a simple (not web programmer) user can not know how to acquire a direct link that will not change in time.

    it is especially true if a site owner intentionally wants to prevent your page working for it. like a page that sells snake oil, and does not want readers to find alternative sources of information.
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    Feb 17 2012: This is one of the best ideas I have heard within the ted conversations platform. There is definately a need for inter-website discourse. Not only does it limit the control of the host of a forum, but it also allows for greater creativity in the type of responses people can have to one another. Here in the debate section, I get 2000 words. However, if discourse happened between pages, then people could use video, pictures or even simple interactive games to get their point across.

    Also, right now, the internet suffers from a bit of a forum glut. There are forums everywhere but, they are disconnected even if they are talking about the same thing. It would be good to be able to link them.

    I would also like to see a system built in for tracking down sources of information, as well as rebuttals.

    In a sense, it allows the users of the internet to create links, rather than just the hosts of the websites, allowing for crowdsourced networking. Using browsers in this way could be a distruptive technology. It makes me think of the way companies like google or facebook can take data and say "if you like this, you may also like that, so here's an ad", or "check out similar videos on youtube". But instead, its in the hands of the crowd. Imagine a system like torrent, but instead of exchanging files, users exchange links between sites, forming a crownsourced map of the web.

    You have really made me think of the web differently. Hats off to a great idea!
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    Feb 24 2012: One thing I've been thinking about with regards to this project, is the definition of rebuttal. A lot of sites have opposing views but aren't really rebuttals. I can think of news organisations that have different ideological biases covering the same story. They aren't really rebuttals of each other, but they do disagree in their interpretation.

    Similarly, often PR organisations will be engage in "culture wars" trying to sway public opinion, but they don't debate. They highlight different issues, and use different strategies. Often they are talking about different topics, but are obliquely trying to sway opinion away from each other.

    This is a very murky world you are trying to help people sort out
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    Feb 17 2012: Hi Scott,
    Thanks so much for your comments. My partner and I have been receiving a lot of positive feedback so far, and it seems you have picked up on the heart of the issue straight away. We have also got our eyes on other functions, such as "More information" "I agree" "Review" etc sorts of linkages, but have decided to start narrow and build one principle as well as we can, and then expand from there. Partly because I think rebuttals are what is really missing (everyone already links to "people who agree with me" and "you might also like..." stuff) - this is the answer to the "Filter Bubbles" Eli Pariser was talking about. If every page you read gave you an automatic out into an opposing perspective... think of the perspective enrichment available to every user.

    And Krisztian - yes, that is indeed one problem we encountered early on in our coding efforts. Thankfully Google made a huge step forward in helping to solve that problem in 2009 with the invention of Canonical URL's. Sadly, not everyone uses them (wikipedia for example), and as you say, there is scope for fraudulent sorts of websites to purposefully manipulate their own URL's to avoid recognition. Hopefully this won't happen too much, and if rbutr gets to the level of success where websites start doing that to avoid being rebutted, then hopefully people will become immediately suspicious of websites with unnecessarily crazy URL's without any rebuttals tagged for them....

    Scott, RE thinking of the web different, try having a look at this video which I made the other day about what sort of an impact I can see this app having on the way information is organised on the web. It goes for 15 min though - but it is a mock up of an animation I would love to one day present in a TED talk. Hopefully once the app is successful and we are using genuine data rather than just imaginary visualisations :)
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      Feb 19 2012: I was thinking about filter bubbles and self-made filter bubbles. By that i mean, the tendency of people to expose themselves to media content that they agree with, causing a slanted view. This could be a great way to get people of different online communities to interact, over coming that problem.

      I watched your video, and it talks about just what I was thinking.

      One challenge I see is the login gate. A lot of sites offer news for paid subscriptions. Similarly, things like facebook are often a place where people can debate, but you need to log in. I never save my password and username, but it seems I would have to to use this device.

      I'm also curious about the comlexity of the interface.

      Also, there is also the issue of profit. Is there a way to profit, or is this a gift to society?

      Anyway, just a thought.

      Keep up the good work!
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        Feb 20 2012: Well pay-walls are something which are not very good for rbutr, but then, pay-walls aren't very good for the internet. Not much we can do about that other than wait for them to disappear - and in the meantime any articles which are submitted which end up delivering "You are not authorised to view this article" will automatically be voted down by the community since they don't offer the content that peoplw want to see.

        Similarly articles which require login before you can read them will likely be treated harshly for the same reason. So on one hand, good content may be lost, but with the amount of good content already available freely outside of these 'gated information communities' I don't think any real loss will be felt. Anyone who writes an amazing comment in facebook is free to, and should, go and write that same comment in their own blog, tumblr, twitter, forum... etc. There are so many outlets for publishing publicly online that there should be no fear of losing data behind login gates.

        The complexity of the app, for the user, is minimal. There are some videos of the prototype in action on the website, but I will be making more by the end of the month as we will have finally applied a design to it.

        We have thought about monetisation options, and there are a few available - but personally I am much more interested in making an impact on the net. Hopefully my other projects can continue to provide me with enough income to keep this project going until it has proven itself.