Checking the logs for blueDonkey.org yesterday I noticed a bot/crawler that I hadn’t seen before (though it may well have been there before since I don’t normally look in the agents list): the TurnitinBot. Unlike most bots though, this one was polite enough to leave not just its name, but also the URL to the page that explains what it is, who owns it and how to stop it scanning your site if you want. Top marks to the folks at Turnitin for netiquette!
What is Turnitin though? Well, it is a fully featured school assignment management system as far as I can see, including a feature that scans student papers for plagiarism. That is where the bot comes in: it scans the internet and builds up a database of information on the internet that it can compare with submitted papers to look for possible plagiarism. Check out the sample report from their website (and also notice the use of Apple’s Safari browser in the screen shot).
Times have changed it seems since I was writing essays. Now there are websites that contain large numbers of essays available for a few dollars. They’re not hiding their purpose either using names like Evil House of Cheat. I’m not going to provide any URLs (if you’re going to cheat, at least show enough initiative to find the sites on your own). That said, it still seems to be a very low number that are really abusing these services and just submitting papers they buy online directly – check out the pie chart on Turnitin’s site that shows less than 1% of students handing in papers from the internet unchanged.