YouTube Takes a Page From xkcd

The influence of the Web comic xkcd apparently knows no bounds: It has now spawned a new and potentially game-changing feature on YouTube.

In this recent xkcd strip, comic creator Randall Monroe suggests that YouTube users would leave better comments -- or, more precisely, avoid leaving stupid ones -- if they first heard their words read back to them out loud.

Recognizing a good idea when one is offered up for free, YouTube developers went ahead and built the feature. I just tried it: Wrote on one video, "Man, this is lame," pressed the "audio preview" button, heard a reasonably audible rendition of the phrase read back to me, thought better of my contribution, and hit delete.

"I love that Google had the sense of humor to add this feature," writes Matt Cutts, the company's Web spam cop/blogger.

Me, too. And it's not the first time xkcd has contributed to the betterment of the Internet.

About a year ago, researchers at the University of Southern California presented results from what they called the first full "Internet census" conducted in 25 years: 3 billion pings directed at 2.8 million Internet addresses. From my post about that effort:

Presenting the census results graphically was a major challenge, one which researchers met through the help of a popular Web cartoon.

These addresses appear in the chart as a grid of squares, each square representing all the addresses beginning with the same first number ("128," in the preceding example). The map is arranged in not in simple ascending numerical order, but instead in a looping pattern called a Hilbert curve, which keeps adjacent addresses physically near each other, and also makes it possible to zoom seamlessly in to show greater detail. "The idea of using a Hilbert curve actually came from a web comic, xkcd."

Has a comic strip creator ever won a Nobel Prize?

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