Promoting Specific Agendas With rbutr

Reposted from the rbutr blog:

I have been contacting people about rbutr over the past few weeks in an attempt to guage community interest in the app and to see if anyone will actually use it (probably just about the most important thing when building a new application…) and this concern has already been brought to my attention at least once, and I saw it again in the comments to a New Scientist article on one of our predecessors – Dispute Finder (Think Link):

Reader ‘Jon’ commented:

This is potentially a dangerous tool. All the climate change deniers will flag all the scientific pages, and point to their blogs. Then an unknowing citizen searches climate change and thinks there is a real debate. That’s just frightening.

So it is worth addressing these concerns before I hear them much more. Anyone who is so uncertain about their own position on a subject that they are afraid of people hearing an alternative perspective, really ought to be looking in to their own beliefs a lot more. Or to put it another way, let me quote one of my favourite quotes of all time:

“John Stuart Mill… argued that silencing an opinion is ‘a peculiar evill.’ If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the ‘opportunity of exchanging error for truth’; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in ‘it’s collision with error.’ If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly even know that; it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.”
-Carl Sagan, Demon Haunted World

I believe this quote captures a philosophical sentiment which is so important, that the fear of ‘abuse’ at the hands of “the enemy” is made completely irrelevent. Particularly when that fear is raised in relation to an app like Dispute Finder, or rbutr. Remember, rbutr is not Fox News – it won’t pretend to be Fair and Balanced while constantly spinning each story a particular way. rbutr is just a tool – it has no bias, only it’s users do. And if you see someone exhibiting a bias, you have just as much power to counteract it as they have to enact it.

Websites with bias already exist. Social media and search engines already allow people to share and search for these biased websites. What rbutr is going to change about this equation, is that your ‘filter bubble‘ will have a permanent hole in it – a nice little rbutr sized hole, where you can choose to step out in to the big wide world of ‘someone else’s opinion’ any time you want.

And that is pretty cool.

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The Ultimate Objective of rbutr

Repost from the rbutr blog, titled: The Ultimate Objective of rbutr

The ultimate objective of rbutr, is to help bring online discussions to the best possible conclusion available with the known information.

The method used to achieve this could be called “Forced Principle of Charity” whereby the Principle of Charity is manufactured by finding and presenting the best possible rebuttal to a claim rather than needing to ‘assume it’ or ‘fill in the blanks’ on behalf of the claim.

Through iteration of this action, the discussion is necessarily forced towards some sort of a conclusion.

I see it working this way: There are thousands of different entry points to an argument, but most of the time when having one of these discussions, you inevitably wind your way through all of these random peripheral claims and positions and inevitably find yourself at one of the (or several of the) core principles/claims/beliefs which underlie the main difference of opinion.  Ideally, how rbutr will work, is that through a combination of direct rebuttals, and general rebuttals, all of these peripheral arguments will eventually be step-wise redirected towards ‘the best rebuttal possible for the core tenants of disagreement’. Once this mythical article is written and voted up by the community to take its place as the hub point of all of the online discussions on this particular subject, then the real discussion can continue.

With ‘the best possible rebuttal to the core points of disagreement’ in place then there should be an active ongoing competition between people who disagree with that rebuttal to write ‘the best possible rebuttal’ to it. The community will vote, filter and select their way through the rebuttals until they find it, and then we have rebuttal number 2 of the conversation. And so on, down a path of direct rebuttals until the most reasonable conclusion is reached.

I need to find an animator to work with on this, because I think we could make an incredibly effective visual representation of this process.

Problems (obviously)

So yeah, obviously the description above is set in an ideal world, with sufficient users all motivated by the search for the truth – which is rarely representative of the human population. Although, that being said, we don’t need to worry about ‘the human population’ too much. We just need to worry about the culture of our users, and do our best to make sure all of our users are motivated by the quest for the truth. That will go a long way towards ensuring our results are as close as possible to this ideal world view.


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Mapping the Discourse of the Internet

Update: is now a reality. This was the post which made it happen. Go to now and register to see the vision in action!

The Minimal Viable Product

A browser extension which allows people to link “Rebuttals” to specific web pages so that when other users view that specific webpage, the extension indicates that a “rebuttal” webpage exists, and by clicking on the extension icon you will taken to it.

Real world exmple:
The Daily Mail posts a story that “Scientist’s Say Mini Ice Age is coming”.

In response, Potholer54 makes a video: which provides a strong rebuttal to the article (and the numerous spin off articles which copied the fabrication verbatim).

But anyone who gets directed to the original article has no idea that the headline of the article is a complete fabrication, and tend to accept it as true (since it comes from a ‘respectable’ source – not just some blog, for example). So for all of the great work that has been done debunking the ridiculous article by Potholer54 and the hundreds of other bloggers and scientists and youtubers out there, people who see the original article have no indication of any of that. So much great work, effectively wasted because they cannot (easily) reach the target audience!

Hence the need for a tool like this. With this browser extension, if you have the tool installed, when you get directed to this article by some misguided friend on facebook, as soon as you land your browser will clearly indicate that rebuttal(s) have been submitted to this article. When you finish reading the article, you are then free to click through and read the rebuttal to it, and likewise, click through again if there are in turn, more rebuttals to those rebuttals.

Why Make It?

The purpose of this tool is to facilitate ‘forward’ moving discussion. Whenever someone posts a rebuttal style article online, they always link to, or at least indicate the article that they are replying to. It is necessary. You have to let people know what it is you are replying to in order to reply to it! So whenever you come across one of these sorts of posts online, it is easy to look ‘backwards’ through the discussion, but wherever you enter this debate, it always seems like it is ‘the last word’ on the subject. But it rarely is.

This tool will show where the discussion has gone, rather than just where it has been. It will allow people to follow discussions forward through time, rather than just backwards. It will help reduce ignorance by providing internet users with a way to look beyond the information they find themselves presented with.

The internet is a huge mess of information – organising that information into a USEFUL format is one of the biggest challenges of the internet.

  1. Search engines were the first major breakthrough on that front, and they are still great – within their bounds.
    Find what you are looking for, roughly.
  2. Social Tools were the second major breakthrough, with clever systems of recommendation based on subject. StumbleUpon, Reddit, Facebook etc.
    Discover stuff you didn’t know you were looking for/Discover stuff similar to what you already like
  3. This tool – this concept – could be the third major breakthrough by providing a ‘threading’ system to internet subject matter. Discussion based direction to the web.
    Discover the next piece of information you need.

The long vision (below) will go in to more details on the following stages of development and on how this simple idea could be rolled out to acheive far more of this information-organising function.

Reaching the Market

This is the biggest difficulty with this idea. There is no organic-growth model. There is no content creation, so no SEO based traffic. There is nothing inherently viral, or recommendable about the technology. It isn’t particularly cool, so people won’t share it on Reddit or Facebook or Stumble Upon. And unlike StumbleUpon’s toolbar (a very similar technological concept in many ways), this lacks any on-page presence. ie: People add “Thumbs Up on StumbleUpon” badges on their websites as a way of attracting more Stumble traffic to their site. This tool has no such ability.

The only people who might want to promote this tool are the authors of rebuttal style articles, but ironically, they need to promote it to the readers of the ‘opponents’ – because their own subscribers don’t need to the tool!

Variations on the Basic Idea

The idea of creating a system of organising topical discussion threads throughout the internet seems to be one of value to me. Instead of toolbar, it could be taken to google or internet regulatory bodies as a tag which indicates relationship. Just as Rel=”No Follow” was created as a way to combat spam, so too perhaps could a tag be invented which allows websites to indicate that they are rebutting/replying/agreeing with websites they link to. For example, something like this might be written:

Yesterday, the website which I disagree with wrote this article: <a href=”url” rel=”rebut”>Article Title</a> – but it is so wrong, because it said X, but Y is demonstrated by this reason.

or equally:

Last night, the website of a friend published this article: <a href=”url” rel=”agree”>Article Title</a> – and I just want to restate how important this view is, because it said X, and Y is a real problem that X deals with.

So, as an example, this sort of markup could be created and introduced to the internet, perhaps with the values of “Rebut”, “Agree”, “Review” and/or “Reply” (with strict definitions of each) and then the search engines, the browsers themselves, or other robots could use this markup to construct meaningful maps of online discussions. Hopefully even offering ideal pathways through the discussion…

The Long Vision

The tool described above is the MVP, and is very simplistic. There are a lot of improvements which could be made, and I currently expect they should be rolled out, roughly along the plan described below:

Stage Two

If any sort of market penetration is reached then the first people to really use the tool will be the internet marketers who will abuse it as a way of linking from popular articles to their own website. First improvement will be the ability for users to upvote, downvote and spam-vote the articles presented to them through the tool.

Repeat offending domains (repeatedly marked as spam) could be permanently blocked. And other obvious steps to reduce abuse would be implemented.

Stage Three

Implement a more detailed system which allows more types of replies to be entered. The MVP above doesn’t actually allow for agreements, reviews or other replies to be indicated (though it was mentioned in the variations section). So this sort of specification could be implemented, if it seemed desirable. Thus “n replies” would be indicated, and onclick a popupwindow would break down : “X Rebuttals, Y Agreements and Z Reviews” – at which point you choose what you are interested in.

Stage Four

The first major upgrade to the system: The creation of a way for users to delve in to the arguments themselves and provide analysis of the original article in relation to the reply through a side-by-side view with page-overlay highlighting. In other words, build a way for users who are particularly interested/involved in specific discussion the ability to bring up both articles connected by a ‘reply’ link side by side so that they can highlight sections, and visually connect those sections to highlighted sections in the reply, and comment about that connection etc. In effect, this component would not be too different to web annotation tools which already exist (, but just used in a specific context and with a precise objective of facilitating discourse. ie: the comments should be made to highlight how the reply has actually dealt with the claims, rebutted points, and/or failed to address key points.

Stage Five

The super long vision:

Develop a sophisticated algorithms/intelligent software which learns to identify repeated claims and the standard replies to them. Automatically starts to provide ‘standard rebuttal’ options for false claims, bad arguments, logical fallacies etc on the fly while browsing. Turns the redundancy of millions of internet pages and posts on the same topic on its head, and focusses the results of all of the repeated arguments in to the one most productive outcome. Could sort of work like word’s grammar tool, but with bad claims/arguments. It would underline or highlight lines which are found to be repeatedly used even though they have been rebutted hundreds of times elsewhere, and onclick or onhover, provide the rebuttal and a list of resources for that false claim.


Please leave feedback and comments to this. I would like to build it, but I am struggling with how to reach any sort of market penetration with it at all – and of course, with all of these sorts fo ideas: is it even worth making it? I think it is a cool idea, but there is never any way to know without trying, or at least without talking to people – which is the point of this post. Feedback!

So please, let me know what you think.

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Mobile wordpress, mwahahaha

Ok, so I have finally installed mobile wordpress on my iPhone so that I can post while sitting on the train. Definitely not my favorite way to type out an entry, but better than sitting there staring out the window.

Hmm, new thought – find app which allows you to save online articles/pages for easy recall from your iPhone later. So many things I could be reading or practicing right now which I waste my time doing at a desk.

Anyway, work will be starting again on immortal outdoors on Monday, finally. I need to redo my notes doc for them, because a bit has changed and I’ve found more stuff that needs fixing.

Anyway, I have also decided to keep practicing coding stuff, and I am going to do it through the amalgamation if two ideas I have had – both which I quite like, and only just the other day finally realized how much they overlap.

The ideas are both on the subject of discourse, specifically debate mediation and resolution. One idea was a website that orchestrated organized debates between high level representatives of particularly contentious subjects, and facilitate a strict analysis and mediation of the debate.

But the second idea is the one I am mote excited about. The browser extension toolbar idea which allows crowd sourced creation of semantic information linking claim-reply-counter reply articles together.

To put that in simpler terms, the ability for authors of rebuttal articles online to indicate within this tool what article(s) it is rebutting. Users of the toolbar who then read the original article will be alerted to the fact that a rebuttal has been posted.

Not sure how much more detail I can go in to on this iPhone interface, but the initial MVP should be reasonably simple and effective, while the ongoing growth and development in to the most amazing argument resolution tool of all history is amazingly possible.

Anyway, I am going to try to build the MVP myself, while doing all the other stuff I am doing. Lol. Buy it is all related. I need to learn to code and build MVP quality tech. These are skills I need. So time to get on with it!!

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