With a simple copy and paste, "I Write Like" analyzes your prose, be it from "your latest blog post, journal entry, comment" or "chapter of your unfinished book." After combing through a submitter's writing style -- including sentence length and punctuation -- "I Write Like" spits out its computer-programmed determination of which of the 50 famous authors in its database you "write like."
Like the double rainbow YouTube video or a quiz of "Which 'Sex and the City' Character Are You?," sampling "I Write Like" has proven tempting. As of July 15, the site created by 27-year-old Russian software programmer Dmitry Chestnykh has analyzed 1,483,036 texts, according to the site's Twitter feed.
"I pasted in a few graphs of a blog and came up with ... David Foster Wallace, the beloved author of 'Infinite Jest,'" said Christian Science Monitor writer Yvone Zipp, who boasted that her grocery list evoked comparison to Margaret Atwood, the feminist, novelist and poet.
There is similar celebration on "I Write Like's" Facebook page.
"I write like Stephen King," declared one user, Monal Andotra. "Woo!"
"I got Nabokov!" said a commenter on the London Review of Books' blog. "Yes!"
One AOL News editor was happy to report his writing's likeness to James Joyce, while another contributor was dubbed a less-impressive Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code" who is a global best-seller but not exactly a pillar of great literature.
"It told me I write like Dan Brown, and I almost killed myself," complained a (dramatic) commenter named Drew at The New York Times website.
But before you lament the likeness of your artful prose to that of J.K. Rowling, consider the source.
Analyses by "I Write Like" are not at all error-proof. In fact, it went 0-4 in our testings of passages of authors in its database.
Ernest Hemingway's prose was identified as Leo Tolstoy's, Tolstoy's was Dickensian, Charles Dickens smacks of Agatha Christie, and Virginia Woolf was pegged as Oscar Wilde. (Maureen Dowd, who was not in its database, was Kurt Vonnegut.)
Chestnykh concedes in an interview with The Awl that the algorithm behind "I Write Like" "isn't rocket science."
"You can find it on every computer today. It's a Bayesian classifier, which is widely used to fight spam on the Internet," he said. "When you receive a message that you think is spam, you click this button, and the internal database gets trained to recognize future messages similar to this one as spam. This is basically how 'I Write Like' works on my side: I feed it with 'Frankenstein' and tell it, 'This is Mary Shelley. Recognize works similar to this as Mary Shelley.'"
For convenience, books penned by the author "I Write Like" turns up are featured at the site in a direct link to Amazon.com.
The simplicity of the program may explain why "I Write Like" compares Justin Bieber's pop song "Baby" to Foster Wallace, according to the Toronto Star, or why Gawker reported that Mel Gibson's infamous recent cell phone rants were likened to Atwood, and Sarah Palin's anti-Joe McGinniss Facebook note was written in the style of weird fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft.
Chestnykh admitted he isn't at all qualified to analyze literature but simply set out to make a "fun badge." And while he even posted a True/Slant blog quote on "I Write Like" calling his creation "completely idiotic, useless, fallacious, ridiculous, meaningless -- but fun," Chestnykh told The Awl he doesn't exactly agree with the "useless" part.
"It helps people discover and re-discover writers. There are so many comments like, 'I write like Ernest Hemingway. I have to read more of his books,' or 'I write like Chuck Palahniuk. Who? Never heard of him, will read,'" Chestnykh said. "It is amazing that this tool can be used for education."
Tinkering with "I Write Like" can be quite meta, with journalists analyzing their stories about "I Write Like" with analyses from "I Write Like." For what it's worth, according to "I Write Like," this story is written like sci-fi author Cory Doctorow.