My Web Widget Idea du Jour: The Spectrometre

I finally got around to reading a bunch of articles I’d printed out. One of them was Truth and the Net by Cory Doctorow. It begins:

Trusting what you read on the internet is a dangerous prospect, but it beats the alternative. At least on the internet, you get to choose your bias.

He’s right about this, of course, but something struck me: bias can be a difficult and time-consuming thing to understand. What if there was a tool that gave you information about a website’s bias?

Here’s what I’m imagining. It’s a web widget and a Firefox extension. It sits on a website or in your Firefox toolbar, and appears as a little slider that goes from -5 to 5. At each end of the slider there are opposing terms. The most common would be Left and Right, in terms of the political spectrum. However, any two terms could be applied: Dog-Cat, Apple-Windows, Celine-Metallica, whatever.

When you visit a website, you can set this slider where you think it belongs on spectrum. So, maybe on the political spectrum I’d give Rob Cottingham is -3, where Stephen Taylor is +3. You can also vote for or choose from the most popular spectrums on that site. Maybe on a political site, in addition to Left-Right, there’s Libertarian-Statist.

The widget would also display the collective opinion for that site, and the setting which the site publisher thinks the site deserves. You could also do some interesting stuff around the average setting of sites linking to the current site, and so forth.

This, of course, isn’t a replacement for reading and critical thinking, but it might be a useful if simplistic tool. I hit so many different sites every day, and for many of them for the first time. As such, I’d appreciate any kind of meta information I could gather.

Maybe such a tool exists. Has anybody heard of such a thing?


  1. Brem: I don’t really know. Obviously the app would have to report back to a central server, so I guess the stats would have to be stored somewhere other than your machine.

    I’d leave that kind of thing to whoever was doing the implementation.

  2. I think that a proper annotation system is required that doesn’t merely measure on some arbitrary scale (a scale set by an averaged user?)

    Perhaps something combining something akin to how Medical Subject Headings work with the established concept of tagging.

    Isn’t that where web 3.0 is supposed to be heading?

    Web 2.0 brought us tagging, but will web 3.0 bring us smart and ordered tagging?

  3. Why measure everything on a linear scale? Don’t most things have more depth to them? This would be a very hard thing to measure and report accurately. Plus I’m not sure I would trust the masses with this job.

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