An Israeli company has recently issued a "British English" version of its prose-polishing software suite, winning plaudits in the quality UK press.
WhiteSmoke, a firm hailing from Tel Aviv, initially intended to market its tech to customers for whom English was a second language. To the founders' surprise, however, there was massive takeup in America from users who considered themselves native speakers.
WhiteSmoke has done most of its business in the States as a result, but apparently it's not just inarticulate Americans who want a bit of help with their written work.
"Over the last half a year we have had many requests from the UK and Commonwealth countries for WhiteSmoke to be optimised for British English," according to Liran Brenner, WhiteSmoke veep for R&D.
Hence the "British" version, announced last month in perhaps not-entirely-pukka*-British style:
"English is the lingua franca of globalization [sic], and our vision is to give everyone a level playing field in making a good first impression... WhiteSmoke recently released the British English Edition of its award winning English writing software."
And now the Israeli kit has been written up by the Guardian news operation, famous as Blighty's citadel of perfection when it comes to the written word.
"A computer software program claims that it can automatically turn garbled writing into clear and simple prose," says the Observer. "It may come as a godsend to George Bush, John Prescott and any others who sometimes struggle to explain themselves in plain English."
The broadsheet scribes give the kit a qualified thumbs up, saying that a WhiteSmoke-ised John Prescott text showed "definite improvement". That seemed worthy of attention to us at Vulture Towers, always on the lookout for ways of doing less work. If the kit could be configured to say "boffinry" for "science", "irascible chair-flinging pottymouth biz tyrant" for "Ballmer" (etc) we could work mainly from the pub.
Sadly, there was no option to download the WhiteSmoke gear for a free trial, and the starting price of $80 couldn't be punted on such a risky proposition. That sort of cash would pay our sub-editing team's mescaline bill for, well, several hours probably.
However, the WhiteSmoke website did offer some advice for free.
"Online, where content is king, it is somewhat surprising to discover that many websites are replete with spelling and English grammar errors... English errors on websites are bad for business."
True - especially if you're selling error-checking software. This could explain why WhiteSmoke has two "in-house Top Experts" to answer questions and make sure that the corporate image is just what it should be.
They've certainly done an amazing job on the site. Here are a few samples:
"The trick was devising algorithms capable of scanning through the masses of text to analyse syntax and then feed it into our database...
"The improvements to the enrichment database are huge for our customers that use text enrichment to make their writing more professional and compelling...
"Today we implemented a new structure in our forum...
"Rarely is thought given to business writing. At WhiteSmoke, we think that the communication revolution taking place through the widespread use of electronic communication has created a new avenue through which to think about company image – the business email."
"All of the English writing help you need is available effortlessly through WhiteSmoke."
"Q: What are the differences between WhiteSmoke and WORD?
"A: Furthermore, WhiteSmoke suggests many options of adjectives and adverbs that can be inserted before a verb to enhance and upgrade the sentence: e.g. 'I hope you are strong' changes to 'I sincerely hope you are very strong' 'i hope you is strong' the changes are as follows: (capital I, added 'sincerely' before the word hope and changed the 'am' to 'are') The above options, which are void in Word, can be applied to any software."
Just think - buy WhiteSmoke, and your website too could read like this. And in case you aren't won over:
"WhiteSmoke has an 'I'm feeling lucky' button. A click of this button, automatically changes your text according to the brainstorming of the computers and programmers.
"Word does not have this feature."
That's got to be a killer selling point.
WhiteSmoke's special sauce - apart from an ordinary spell checker and thesaurus - is its Web 2.0 online architecture. Central company machinery trawls the web for examples of good writing, and compares what you write - as submitted by the client running on your machine - with the distilled wisdom of the internet.
The "enrichment database" uses only reputable sources for comparison, of course: not just any old mad webpage. Even so, assuming the company used its own kit when setting up its own site, the results could be seen as a trifle erratic.
The other thing to bear in mind is that WhiteSmoke software sends everything you write back to the parent company. That has to be a showstopper for a lot of ordinary consumer and biz users, one would think.
Let alone John Prescott or George Bush.®
*We do know where 'pukka' comes from. Savour the irony.