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Spellbound 2.0

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So you’re pretty sure your website or blog is free of spelling errors. Wait, don’t tell me… you got an A in spelling from your grade seven English teacher, right? Australian digital marketing company Melon Media is betting that even the most polished websites contain at least a few spelling groaners.

Not long after Spellr.us launched in private beta back in May, Anthill was invited to participate as one of the very early testers. As Anthill’s New Media columnist, I was extremely curious. As the magazine’s Editor, I considered it more of a challenge – an internal spelling bee, if you will.

When the first scan of AnthillOnline.com indicated that the site contained 336 likely errors (211 unique) and 1,454 possible errors (444 unique), my first reaction was to blame the spellr.us service. There was no way that there were 655 unique words misspelt on our professional editorial website. Indeed, further investigation revealed that many of the flagged words were not spelling errors but merely words not in the core dictionary. Others were user-generated “typos” (let’s be generous to our beloved users) in blog comments and on the forum.

Yet, after sifting through these false positives (this is, of course, an early beta service), there they were:

“characters” spelt “charcters”
“unparalleled” spelt “unparelled”
“economy” spelt “econmomy”
“ubiquitous” spelt “uniquitous”
“receives” spelt “recieves” – that old chestnut? (Oh the humanity!)

In all, there were 55 genuine spelling errors on Anthill’s website, and while I cried myself to sleep that first night, the pain has dulled somewhat over the ensuing weeks.

The spellr.us interface is smooth and, mercifully, simple. With a little customisation it can perform the work of a dozen proof-readers in a fraction of the time, allowing you to polish unsightly spelling smears from your digital duco. Words flagged by the scan are divided into two categories – probable and possible spelling errors. Beneath each word is a list of all the urls in which the word appears, and if you click through, all the flagged words on that page are at the top – and clicking on them takes you to their exact location on the page.

Custom dictionaries were introduced a few weeks after the initial private beta launch, allowing users to build up a whitelist of words. In the near future, users will also be able to exclude certain pages and even sections from scans, meaning error-riddled blog comments and forum posts will not clutter the scan results. Automatic scan scheduling and RSS notification are also planned.

“We’ve been doing a lot of testing and I have to say that nearly every site has pretty bad typos,” says Kevin Garber, General Manager of Sydney-based Melon Media, the company behind spellr.us. “I can’t reveal which are the worst, but the spelling on some of the university sites is horrendous. Some of the big corporate sites also contain a staggering amount of spelling errors. I think it’s a function of the number of people that update these sites. When I send people a scan report, I always assure them that I’ve never come across a site that didn’t have some pretty shocking typos.”

According to Garber, word-processing spell checkers mean that most copy gets onto websites in decent shape – it is when online tweaks are made that spelling errors creep in.

“The younger generation has grown up with SMS and casual chat online,” says Garber. “While they know how to spell, they don’t see it as important as some of us old-school dinosaurs who remember the hassle of typewriters and correcting typos on printed documents.”

Garber and his team expect to release spellr.us to the general public towards the end of 2008, though no date has been confirmed. They are targeting corporates that are running a multitude of sites each being updated by a multitude of people – the most common factor contributing to online spelling errors. The service has also attracted solid interest from universities and unforseen interest from Europeans running English-language sites and blogs, but for whom English isn’t their native tongue.

“Everyone’s focused on social networking, videos and the sizzle side of the web,” says Garber. “But something as simple as spelling can have a huge impact on the credibility of a website… and the brand behind it. We’ve never been precious about solving bread-and-butter problems. There’s never been an application like this, the way we’ve done it. It’s a new service, there’s plenty of interest and it’s only going to get better.”

www.spellr.us

Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine.

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