Evaluation of Websites
Most library users are aware that information gathered from search engines, such as Yahoo or Google, may not always be accurate or complete. There are a number of methods to use to ascertain the credibility of a website; however, beware of those sites that skillfully hide a biased point of view. It is easy to recognize that film reviews on Mr. Cranky’s website may not be suitable to use as a resource, just from the name of the site. But what about the website listed on Google for information on Martin Luther King, Jr.? According to the Google description, this website appears to be a fine resource. However, if you click on the site and take a deeper look, using the criteria listed below, you will discover that the site is hosted by Stormfront, a white supremacist organization.
What to look for in assessing a website:
Sponsor of site: Is the sponsor a reputable entity? For example, the website for the American Psychological Association has a glossary of terms. Such a page is certainly a good resource. One way to quickly assess the validity of the sponsor is to notice whether the source is a dot gov, dot com, etc.
.gov is sponsored by the United States government, such as www.thomas.gov, which is an excellent source for legislative history. Specific states also use .gov, for example: http://www.mass.gov. Such sites provide credible and timely information.
.edu is sponsored by a specific college or university. It is assumed that information gathered from such a site will be informative and accurate. Websites for universities in the United Kingdom are designated .ac.
.org is the designation for organizations. Here there may be some problems ascertaining if the organization is reputable. The site www.bso.org, for the Boston Symphony, is a dependable source. In addition .org sites are sponsored by organizations (and by individuals) that seek to influence opinions. They may be biased, such www.nra.org, which is the website of the National Rifle Association. This would not be a good source for unbiased information on gun control.
.com often designates a company selling a product, such as www.amazon.com, It can also be used by newspapers, selling their product, which is news. An example is www.washingtonpost.com.
.net is usually intended to be commercial or networking in nature, such as an internet service provider. It can serve all domains that do not fit in other classifications; consequently, material provided may not be accurate and may be biased.
.mil is a military site, such as www.navy.mil. Generally, such a site would be accurate and timely.
Note: Domain names are not strongly regulated in so far as who can register for what. For example, an individual could obtain a .gov or .edu domain.
Accuracy: Are there any discernable mistakes in factual information? Are there any mistakes in grammar, misspellings or typos (such carelessness reflects the credibility of the site).
Author: Does the site (page) have an author? Is this author an authority on the subject of the page (site)? Liking movies does not make Mr. Cranky an expert film reviewer. Does the site give the author’s credentials?
Will the author have a bias? It is possible an advocate for women’s rights will not view Barbie objectively. If no specific author’s name is given, what group is sponsoring the site? Is this a reliable group (organization)?
Completeness: Is the site complete? Is information omitted; if so, why? Is the subject covered in depth?
Date: Does the site (page) have a date? This is particularly important for statistics. Certain topics must be updated frequently, such as examples of computer crime.
Contacts: Is there any contact information? Multiple contact points can be used to assess the site’s credibility.
Purpose: What is the purpose of the site? Is it clearly stated? Does the material on the site fulfill the stated purpose.
Physical set up: Is the site easy to navigate? Are pages clearly laid out and engaging?
Are there any links? Are these useful and do they enhance the purpose of the site? Do the links provide content or are they simply links to other links? Are there any dead links? (This is a clear indication the site is not being monitored regularly.) Are graphics attractive (and do they load quickly)? Can information be downloaded easily?
A final note, there may be excellent resources to be found on websites; there is also wrong information, biased information, and just plain junk. Caveat lector: Let the reader beware.
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