A few clean words from the creator of Cursebird

Curse Bird logo
People swear a lot on Twitter -- it's the Internet, after all -- and when they do, Cursebird is there to capture and tally their every vulgarity in a real-time stream of potty-mouthed consciousness. Not a cuss word goes unchronicled; nary an expletive is deleted.

Cursebird cracks me up -- you don't need a Twitter account to partake and even Twitter haters should find it funny -- so I felt compelled to contact its creator, Web application developer Richard Henry, to get the straight poop behind this profanity tsunami.

Richard Henry
Before we get to Henry, though, a warning: If you're offended by curse words and find nothing amusing about their use or abuse, neither Cursebird nor this post is for you. Flee, please. And, while no serious curse words will appear here, the links will take you to places containing language that is not safe for work, unless you work at HBO.

Great, I see all but three of my regulars are still here.

Excerpts cannot do Cursebird justice; it must be seen to be appreciated. My e-mail chat with Henry can be read right here:

Where did the idea for Cursebird come from?

I was on the train flicking through my Twitterrific feed, and a friend of mine had posted several exasperated curse-laden tweets in a row. It wasn't much of a jump from finding that funny to suddenly wanting to see a worldwide, real-time feed of just exasperated tweets. When I got home, I started playing around with the Twitter API, finding the right mix of swears.

Cursebird has been up as a live feed of swears since Oct. 10. I started storing tweets to run statistics on it at the start of November, and I launched the version with statistics Jan. 9. There's now over two million swears in the database.

What went into building it?

Initially, not very much. It took a couple hours to hash something together and launch it. It was simply a live feed with no statistics, and tweets weren't stored after they fell of the end of the feed.

I told a couple friends and posted about it on my Twitter, and then went to bed. Twelve hours later, I got a text message from my server-monitoring service telling me the machine had become unresponsive. It took about 20 minutes to track down the problem; Cursebird had been twittered about by Biz Stone (the founder of Twitter), posted on Daring Fireball (a popular blog written by John Gruber with well over a million readers), and there was a tweet popping up on Twitter mentioning Cursebird every five or so seconds.

It had officially gone viral. I added 5GB of RAM to my server as a quick fix, and immediately set upon rewriting the application from scratch. It took a few hours, but finally Cursebird could cope with the load and I sat back and watched the reaction. It was unreal. Cursebird still serves around 5,000 page views every day.

What's the reaction been? Anything negative?

The most negative reaction I've had was someone e-mailing me to ask me to stop making useless Web sites. Honestly, I think it's a powerful tool that will connect people, stimulate the economy, create jobs and propel us towards a better future.

No, but seriously, it's already led to some good work for me and helped me get my name out. I'm currently working on a Twitter-related project for Infinity Ward, the makers of the Call of Duty series of video games. You can mention that if you want. I'm 19 years old, so to get such a huge client is pretty great.

Has anyone complained about you shining a light on their "private" cursing?

No, not really. I wondered if anyone would when it took off, but Cursebird can't track your profile if you actually make it "private private," and anyone who thinks their public profile is private probably doesn't get Twitter.

Have you reached any conclusions about the Twitter crowd and its cursing as a result of this project?

I've had a lot of people say that Cursebird has inspired them to loosen up on their language and relax a bit more. A lot of people avoid swearing on Twitter out of fear of losing followers, or looking bad, or something.

Being an American, I forget that "bloody" is considered a curse word elsewhere. Where does it rank among the curse words over there?

Bloody actually isn't that big of a deal over here. I wasn't originally going to track it at all, but I felt that I wanted to know what percentage of swears it occupied so I added it to the array of terms to track. I'd like to expand them even more at some point, and have some fun ideas for 'special words' on April Fools Day.

Your curse grader says I "swear like a teacher's pet," finding only one lone use of the word "bastard" in my Twitter account. Should I be concerned? Do you recommend that I increase my vulgarity quotient?

I'd be very concerned. The No. 1 Twitter curser worldwide has over 7,000 swears, so I think you have some catching up to do.

Finally, has your mum seen Cursebird? What does she think?

Ha-ha. My mum thinks it's great. She actually had me write down an explanation of what it was and how people could find it, so she could tell her friends.

If only George Carlin had lived to see Cursebird.

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