When I saw my friend Art last summer, we talked about truth and the Internet, a topic that I had had a chance to reflect upon from my point of view in the media industry over the previous year, and that many hold dear, to the point that books have been written about its geopolitical ramifications, and a mini-academic specialty has sprung up.
Art was then in the early stages of working on a site “dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of truth and the suppression and elimination of ignorance, demagoguery, and misrepresentation”. The site has now launched in Alpha and it is called Tell Me No More Lies. The header features a clever quote attributed to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts”); Wikiquote, however, mentions that an identical quote is also attributed to James R. Schlesinger – and so it’s ironic that this site should be so unambiguous in its attribution of the witticism it opens with.
“I’m sick of self-appointed experts opining on things they know nothing about or, conversely, the one-person-one-anonymous-vote mechanisms stuck all over the internet. Neither lets me know what real experts in the field think about an issue. I’m hoping Tell Me No More Lies will do just that,” says Art in his email announcing that the site is live. “The launch is an Alpha proof of concept, which means there are many features yet to be built, and there might be some bugs […] I know the UI needs lots of work, but if you have feedback about the implemented concept of authority, endorsement, assertions, voting, etc., please do let me know; this is the most valuable part of this phase.”
I have two pieces of feedback at this point. The first one is that the authority algorithm has potential, but that as long as user accounts are based on Facebook Connect, well, Facebook doesn’t strike me as a site with super-tight procedures of identity verification, so if you can impersonate a Nobel Prize on Facebook, you can probably do it on Tell Me No More Lies. (Twitter, at least, used to let you apply for a Verified Account – I guess that method did not scale, as they are now exploring algorithmic verification). Perhaps it’s trivial to make sure that the site isn’t taken over by fake Steve Jobses, and Art’s authority algorithm has built-in defences against, say, Holocaust-deniers registering en masse to build what looks like an expert consensus. I like it that the site allows experts to emerge rather than be anointed by someone else, but I still wish there were a stronger way to make sure that you are who you claim to be.
The second feedback is that, well, I read from left to right and am used to graphs with “Less” on the left and “More” on the right (think about the origin of a horizontal axis), so it’s a bit counterintuitive that the speedometer showing consensus tilts to the lower speed when the answer is a “yes” and to the higher speed when it’s a “no”. But well, this isn’t primarily about the UI at this point.