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Dec 05 2008

The internet is watching you

Recently I came across two sites that made me realize that the internet is getting too smart for its own good.

One is the site Typealyzer. You insert the URL of a blog and it does a Myers-Briggs type analysis of the personality of the author.

The results of a Myers-Briggs analysis places the subject along four axes:

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

So I inserted the URL for this blog into Typealyzer and got the result that I am an INTP-type, broadly classified as ‘The Thinker’:

Private, intellectual, impersonal, analytical and reflective, the INTP appears to value ideas, principles and abstract thinking above all else. This logical type seeks to understand and explain the universe–not to control it! Higher education often holds a particular appeal to this type who tends to acquire degrees and amass knowledge over the entire course of life. Abstract or theoretical subjects are usually the INTP’s cup of tea, and academic or research careers may seem attractive to this type. From science and math to economics and philosophy: just name the discipline, and you’ll find INTPs perched on the loftiest rungs of theory and analysis. In whatever field they choose, INTPs take on the role of visionary, scientist or architect, and they usually prefer to make their contributions in relative solitude. The mundane details of life may be the INTP’s undoing, since this type lives in a world guided by intuitive thinking. Often perceived to be arrogant and aloof, the quiet and sometimes reclusive INTP may have to struggle in the personal realm, as well, for feelings are not this type’s natural forte.

I then compared this with one of the many quasi-Myers-Briggs assessments available on the internet for free (you have to pay for the real thing) and got the result that my personality type is INTJ.

Of course, each of the four axes is a continuum and few people are at the very extremes of each. The strengths of my individual preferences were given as 44% Introverted, 50% Intuitive, 25% Thinking, and 89% Judging. These can be expressed qualitatively as moderately expressed introvert, moderately expressed intuitive, moderately expressed thinking, and very expressed judging.

The Myers-Briggs site describes the two types in the following way:

INTP: Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.

INTJ: Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

The URL analyzer seems to be in pretty good agreement with the more detailed questionnaire-based analysis. The main difference is the last quality that switched from the T in the blog analyzer to the J, which switched me from the umbrella category ‘Thinker’ to the ‘Scientist’.

Since I was in the mood for navel-gazing, I also tried GenderAnalyzer, that says it uses Artificial Intelligence to determine the gender of the author of the home page of a blog. I did it twice over a couple of weeks and the first time it returned 77% male and the second time 83% male.

I am not sure how to interpret the results since the basis of the algorithm used is not given. Presumably it does some kind of textual analysis of key words in comparison with a database of some sort.

But what would be a ‘good’ result? If for some reason a reader really wants to know the gender of the author, the closer you get to 100% accuracy the better. But from the view of the blog’s author, that may also mean that you are highly gender-stereotypical in your language and/or choice of topics and/or views on them, depending on what the algorithm does. Should an author be aiming for 50% so that one is writing in ways that are free of gender bias?

Jesus’ General (from whose site I first heard about this) who proudly claims that he is “an 11 on the manly scale of absolute gender” was horrified to find that he scored only 72%, lower than even some women bloggers, and he took the necessary steps to raise his manly score.

There also seem to have been a few anomalous results for some well-known people.

What all this tells me is that the internet knows us better than we think or may like.

The old cartoon joke “On the internet no one knows you are a dog” may no longer be true. It not only knows you are a dog, it can even tell the breed.

POST SCRIPT: Put down the duckie!

One of my favorite Sesame Street music segments.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Brian

    Both services are likely using Bayes’ theorem combined with large training sets to make predictions. A corpus of texts written by known M-B types/genders is split into units (probably words or word pairs), and each unit gets the known classification. Making a prediction on a body of text is then as easy as looking up the probability of each classification for each unit. Depending on the units, even a single sentence is unlikely to identify 100% as a single classification.

  2. 2
    Heidi Cool

    Intriguing stuff. For http://blog.case.edu/webdev/ I got “ISTJ – The Duty Fulfillers
    [ISTJ]
    The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever.

    The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it. ”

    That makes sense give the amount of how-to stuff I write about. For the Gener Analyzer I came out 67% male.

  3. 3
    Resume Writing Services

    Great post.

    Thanks

  4. 4
    Matt O'Neal

    Professor Singham,

    Like you, I’m an INTJ. I’ve taken the MB test several times over the last 15 or so years (both online and in a business course). My results have been very similar every time. Now when I plugged my blog in (linked in my name above), it thinks I’m an ESTP, a doer. Maybe. In some respects, I like to do things. I just don’t think of myself as particularly playful. So in my case it was wrong with three of the four categories. I’m wondering if my online personality is just different from my real one.

    Now the gender analyzer was even more interesting. Apparently I’m only 65% male. That’s kind of scary! I’ve always thought of myself as a little more manly than that.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying your writing. And as a fellow INTJ (and also a physicist and Darwin fan), I’m going to try to read more of your stuff.

    Best regards,
    Matt

    PS: why aren’t there any reviews of God vs. Darwin on Amazon? It sounds like a really interesting read…

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