Barbituate: A Modest App Proposal

For every problem technology solves, it creates another. Smartphones have made it possible to settle bar bets instantly, but in so doing, they have made it possible to lose bar bets instantly. From a certain point of view, this too is a job for smartphones.

Barbiturate’s design is simple. Type in a subject (e.g., “Pulp Fiction”) and a predicate (e.g. “won an Academy Award for Best Picture”), and Barbiturate finds the closest Wikipedia page matching the subject, then edits that page to add the predicate. (Version 1.0 will just insert it as the first sentence of the page; future versions may do some natural language processing to find smoother ways to insert the desired “fact.”) The edit will be reverted almost immediately by Wikipedia’s antibodies, but almost is good enough for Barbiturate, which will already have loaded the edited page in a browser window. Show that window to your friend and collect on your bet.

Some naysayers will say that Barbiturate is a tool for vandalism. But I say to them that apps don’t vandalize Wikipedia, people vandalize Wikipedia. Barbiturate is a tool for lightweight editing: adding facts quickly to Wikipedia pages without any unnecessary overhead. It so happens that some people will use Barbituate to add false facts, but so? Other people use Firefox to vandalize Wikipedia. But does Wikipedia ban Firefox users? Of course not.

Just to be clear. I have not created an app to win bets by vandalizing Wikipedia, and you should not, either.