Thursday 15 March 2012

WEB206 - Week 2: Sourcing Information on the Web

"Before the rise of the Internet as a publishing medium, sourcing accurate and reliable information was a far simpler matter than it is today. Indeed, it was often the case that the fact that something had actually been published was enough to ensure a certain degree of reliability. However, with the sheer volume of information published on the Web and the variety of topics covered, locating and tracking reliable sources is an important skill in today's media environment.

As you establish your public web presence, you will become an informal "gatekeeper" of information on a particular topic. Individuals and the networks they (and you) are a part of will use your authority as a measure of the credibility of information. In order to perform this role effectively, you will need to know how to locate and critically evaluate your sources. Your ability to do this well will be reflected in the quality of your writing.

Over the next two weeks we are going to look at a variety of ways of finding and tracking sources, establish some methods for evaluating their credibility and consider what you can and can't do with that information once you have it."

This week's readings:
Van House, N. Weblogs: Credibility and collaboration in an online world.
Warnick, B. (2004). Online ethos: Source credibility in an "authorless" environment. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(2), 256-265. Available through the Library Database

Discussion questions:
1. Warnick lays out six criteria cited by lay users as indexes of Web site credibility (Table One). Which of these criteria do you feel you have typically relied upon to determine the reliability of a site in the past? Why?
2. Do you agree with Warnick's suggestion that the emphasis on the author might be replaced by one based upon "skillful design, image quality, usability, information structure, comprehensiveness, absence of self-interest, [and] usefulness"?

TABLE 1: Criteria Cited by Lay Users as Indexes of Web Site Credibility
Criterion Percentage
1. Being able to trust the information on a site 80
2. Being able to easily navigate and find what you want 80
3. Being able to easily identify sources of information on the site 65
4. Knowing that the site is updated frequently with new information 65
5. Being able to find out important facts about the site 50
6. Knowing who owns the site 32
SOURCE: Princeton Survey Research Associates (2002).

I think the criteria for assessing a particular website is completely dependent on the topic of that site.  For instance, I sometimes read articles on the Mamamia blog, via links they post on Twitter. The blog is mostly opinion-based articles aimed at women, Mums, etc. and I personally find the navigation awful and many of the opinions very one-sided, but it has a large reader base who comment frequently, and the blog itself is updated frequently too. A lot of the time I'm more amused by the comments than the article, and I don't really care too much about the authors or who owns the site. But I also read several small-business based blogs, and with those I am more interested in the credibility of the authors and the information they are providing, and the sources of that information.

My blog is going to be primarily a small business blog, focussing on existing clients and also new clients that are in a similar situation. Often they are older, small business owners who are experts in their own field but have very little idea of where to start or what to do next when it comes to their web presence. One of the things that my existing clients like is that they find me approachable and I can explain things in a "non-geeky" way, which results in referrals, so my plan is to make my blog mostly about the first 3 criteria in the table, but customised to the environment I've already created for them and therefore with a bit of a personal touch.


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