Rewarding Resources: Evaluating Internet Sources

I taught a class this morning that I occasionally offer here at the library on accuracy of information on the Internet.  Evaluating Internet Sources is intended to give some tips to help Internet browsers determine what is and what is not good info.  The following is the handout I use in teaching that class.

If you have questions you can always seek me out at the library.

Keith L Greenawalt

Public Services Manager 

Evaluating Internet Sources:

What’s the Problem?

The Internet is a great source of information, but not all of it is accurate.  There are a number of reasons for this.  It requires little skill or resources to publish online, meaning nearly anyone can say anything on the Internet.  It’s easy to push a particular point of view, often anonymously.  Information online can be out of date as well.  There is a lot of information out there and it can be difficult to sort out the good from the bad.  

Tips: How Do I Know I am Getting Good Information?

It is fairly easy to find information online, whether you went to a website there directly, were linked there through another website, or found it through a search engine.  The following tips are intended to help you determine whether information is credible or not.  Unfortunately, none of the following tips are absolute truths.  You are going to need to rely on your own common sense to determine the value of information.

Domain Names – The main part of a web address is called the domain name.  These can be used to gauge accuracy.  Look at the ending of the domain name.  You can learn a lot just from this.

Ending

Type

Example

.edu

Educational

http://www.millersville.edu

Millersville University

.gov

Government

http://www.pa.gov

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

.org

Organization

http://www.ephratapubliclibrary.org

Ephrata Public Library

.com

Commercial

http://www.google.com

Google search engine

Domain names ending in .com is the most common domain name and are the least likely to provide accurate information.  There is a lot of crossover between these types of domain names, for example the Borough of Ephrata’s web address is http://www.ephrataboro.org.

User Names – Many companies will provide space for, or host, others’ websites.  These websites will have the domain name of the hosting site, followed by a user name: http://www.domainname.com/username.  If a website is hosted at a site like yahoo.com or google.com it should be looked at carefully.

Currency – Information that is out of date can be dangerous.  Does the website indicate when the information was published or place on the Internet?

Authors – Does the website list an author?  Are those authors credentials listed?  Are they an expert, either through education or experience, in the field they are writing on?

Purpose – Ask yourself why this information was put online.  Who put it online and why do they want you to look at it?  Do they have a purpose for putting that information online?

Special Cases

Wikis – Wikis are user created websites that allow contributions from a large group of people.  The foremost example of this is Wikipedia.org, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. 

Blogs – Blogs, is short for weblog, allows authors, or bloggers, to easily post opinions and other information online.

Search Engines – Search engines rank results using different formulas.  Some websites are designed to appear at the top of any list of search results.  Search engines also post advertiser websites around search results.