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[Display Site] Zirdland.com (Jami Harrah)

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Richard

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Yeah, I shot Jenna a quick PM. A very poor 'news' site that exists to sell basic POD packages and advertise YADS (and one so cheap it has a Register.com banner at the bottom) seemed like an odd fit for AW.

(These acronyms provided by the TLA)
 

CaoPaux

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Huh. Zirdnews and ThatFirstLIne are still chugging along, but Zirdland is back to "opening soon". At least the screed is shorter. :cool:
 

hypofocus

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Hi all,

I have some inside scoop on Zirdnet.

I live in the DC area where the company working on this site is located, and I have attended two focus groups they sponsored to get input on their site, which they expect to have up and running soon. They were run by the two developers (both writers themselves) including Joel Ratner.

Bottom line - they are for real, they are serious, and they are not just a display site. They are keenly aware that display sites are useless and are trying to make the web finally become a useful tool for connecting authors with the business.

Basically they've developed a way for a computer to analyze prose, and use that to match it to what a publisher or agent wants (and rate the overall quality of the writing too). I can't say everyone will like it, but it's not a scam and it is definitely more than just another display site. It could be the first useful web-based tool for matching authors with publishers/agents. It's still in development but they are testing it with authors now to get input. They know they have alot of skepticism and cynicism to overcome, and I hope they keep that in mind as they come out of the shadows.

No, I'm not a shill for the company. I'm a working writer and author. I just came here because Joel mentioned to me in the focus group that there was some understandable skepticism out there, including on this board. I was skeptical too, but what they are doing is very sophisticated. I can't say it will work or be accepted by both sides of the business yet, but we'll see.

I can't address any of the other issues or people mentioned on this thread. I only know Joel. Never heard of Jami.
 

hypofocus

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Good to hear, except I hope you have enough information to know what it's all about. I'm reserving judgment right now, I'm just saying I've seen it in action and it's not some crazy scheme.
 

Mac H.

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The 'ArcAngel' sounds like an interesting tool - like the Microsoft Word grammar checker. It sounds like a tool I'd like to use and experiment with.

But running this competition:

Basically, the prize is $1,000 for the best novel and $1,000 for the best screenplay - again, judged solely by the Arc Angel.
What the heck?

The algorithm they described simply scores words for emotional intensity. So fundamentally you could give it garbage, plus sprinkled words to weight the words for emotional intensity, and it would decide it is the 'best' screenplay or novel

Not only that, but they claim that the technology is 'patented'.

I suspect that they are being a tad generous in their claims. A quick google through patents using their names and keywords like 'Story analysis' lists no patents issued by the US Patent office. (Well, it gives plenty of patents .. but no ones that seem to match)

(Use www.google.com/patents to search .. it is much better than the official US patent search!)

Of course, the dishonesty is just my suspicion - but given the lack of Patent # and the lack of matching keywords in patents, it would be their fault if people assume the worst! I'm honestly surprised ... you can get the US Patent Office to issue a patent for almost anything *cough* Amazon One-Click */cough* even if it isn't actually patentable.

It is too late for them to get a patent now - they have publicly described the essence of the algorithm already:

1. Score words for emotional intensity/wisdom/other category
2. Group the words into which characters they belong too. (Optional)
3. Graph the emotional intensity (or whatever category) for each character - and possibly overall as well.
4. Compare the graphs to what the platonic ideal of a novel looks like.

The funny thing is that I did something similar with the first feature screenplay I tried to write. I didn't have the dictionary lookup, but I tried to graph the intensity for each character .. so that it wouldn't be 'flat' all the way through.

I've got a lot of sympathy for this kind of tool - it would be an interesting add on to Final Draft. However the idea of it being used to judge the 'quality' instead of making a useful estimate of an attribute is simply bizarre. For example, I find I often use the 'read out your screenplay' feature while reviewing .. it is totally artificial but forces my brain to listen slowly which often picks out silly mistakes I'd otherwise miss. However, being automatic is particularly bad at many things. It can't pick out the difference between 'He winds the clock' and 'The winds are strong' for example.

The main issue with the algorithm they've described is that it would miss all emotion which is done in subtext. Take the remake of 'War of The Worlds' where Tom Cruises goes to make a sandwich for his daughter, only to have the daughter tell him that she can't have the sandwich because she's allergic to peanut butter. That's a great scene - the single line "I'm allergic to peanut butter" tells us EVERYTHING about Cruise's character's relationship with his daughter. It is a REAL kick in the guts for his character .. not to know something so vital about his own kid.

But for an automatic system to tell us that 'I'm allergic to peanut butter' won't invoke as much emotion in the viewer as 'You are a useless father' is nonsense.

Likewise, the most horrifying line in 'Terminator 2' is when John's foster mother refers to the dog and says "Wolfy's fine, honey. Where are you?". I'd like to see an automatic system that could figure that one out.

Mac
 
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hypofocus

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Mac,

I don't know enough about Arc Angel to explain the details, but I know it's more complicated than just throwing random words at it. It's smarter than that. It follows the characters through the manuscript.

I don't know about the patent issue, but I would think it's the underlying computer technology that does all this that is patented, not the application of it or the algorithm described.

I know that the tool goes through and analyzes word by word, and has an editing tool to let you make changes and see how they score. Comparison to a grammar checker is a good one. And I remember when you could get all kinds of analysis of the complexity of your writing from grammar checkers in a final report, so there's a precedent there.

But yes, it very well might be limited in its ability to handle things like subtext, and humor as well. The developers know its limitations and I don't think they're claiming it can read prose like a human can. It could make a good screening tool to wade through thousands of unsuitable manuscripts to get to a few good candidates though, which is about as much as you'd want it to do anyway.

Again, I'm reserving judgment - just suggesting everyone else should too. I can't say it will succeed. I can say it's not just another display site.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Take the remake of 'War of The Worlds' where Tom Cruises goes to make a sandwich for his daughter, only to have the daughter tell him that she can't have the sandwich because she's allergic to peanut butter. That's a great scene - the single line "I'm allergic to peanut butter" tells us EVERYTHING about Cruise's character's relationship with his daughter. It is a REAL kick in the guts for his character .. not to know something so vital about his own kid.

The problem with that scene is that it takes place at the girl's mother's (that is, the ex-wife's) house, where the girl lives day-to-day, and where Tom finds the peanut butter on the shelf.

If the girl is actually allergic to peanuts, what's it doing there?


Back to topic: As a test for ArcAngel, I'll donate the text for Atlanta Nights.
 

IceCreamEmpress

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The problem with that scene is that it takes place at the girl's mother's (that is, the ex-wife's) house, where the girl lives day-to-day, and where Tom finds the peanut butter on the shelf.

If the girl is actually allergic to peanuts, what's it doing there?

Maybe the mother eats it? "I'm allergic to peanut butter" doesn't necessarily mean "I'm so allergic to peanut butter that nobody can eat it around me" (although it does mean that for some people, of course).
 

BenPanced

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<snip!>
Basically they've developed a way for a computer to analyze prose, and use that to match it to what a publisher or agent wants (and rate the overall quality of the writing too). I can't say everyone will like it, but it's not a scam and it is definitely more than just another display site. It could be the first useful web-based tool for matching authors with publishers/agents. It's still in development but they are testing it with authors now to get input. They know they have alot of skepticism and cynicism to overcome, and I hope they keep that in mind as they come out of the shadows.

I don't know enough about Arc Angel to explain the details, but I know it's more complicated than just throwing random words at it. It's smarter than that. It follows the characters through the manuscript.

<snip!>

I know that the tool goes through and analyzes word by word, and has an editing tool to let you make changes and see how they score. Comparison to a grammar checker is a good one. And I remember when you could get all kinds of analysis of the complexity of your writing from grammar checkers in a final report, so there's a precedent there.

But yes, it very well might be limited in its ability to handle things like subtext, and humor as well. The developers know its limitations and I don't think they're claiming it can read prose like a human can. It could make a good screening tool to wade through thousands of unsuitable manuscripts to get to a few good candidates though, which is about as much as you'd want it to do anyway.

Again, I'm reserving judgment - just suggesting everyone else should too. I can't say it will succeed. I can say it's not just another display site.
I'm seriously reserving judgment, as well. There's just too much in a manuscript for a computer to effectively make any sort of decision while weeding through a slush pile. I really don't see how this will separate the wheat from the chaff.
 

Duncan J Macdonald

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I'm seriously reserving judgment, as well. There's just too much in a manuscript for a computer to effectively make any sort of decision while weeding through a slush pile. I really don't see how this will separate the wheat from the chaff.
About the only way to program a computer to read like a human acquisition editor is to make a breakthrough in AI programming that even the folks doing experiments with Beowulf Clusters aren't capable of doing yet. Trying to ascribe that kind of complex analysis to what sounds suspiciously like a look-up table coupled with a statistical analysis module.

The trouble with that is that it's great for evaluating how close something is written to an established baseline.

Since it has problems handling humor and sub-text (and, by association, irony, whimsey, and parody just to name a few) I suspect that it will find little viability in the current market.
 

CaoPaux

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They announced the winner of their novel competition in Oct '08, and there's no sign of life since.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away