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Credibility online is becoming more and
more of an issue. Anyone can have a blog or post to
a forum and anyone can edit wiki entries. Web surfers
are beginning to comprehend that just because it is
in print does not necessarily mean that it is true.
In fact, in today's online world, the collective truth
might be the closest thing we can get to the real truth.
Peer policing and social bookmarking have become common
in the online world.
Human nature invariably prompts a level
of trust;if it is written, it must be true. We live
in a generation where we expect authors, editors and
publishers that are qualified to write on various topics.
What qualifications are required to post a blog, write
an online article, or edit a wiki? Some web surfers
may find the answer startling: None. Expertise is no
longer a prerequisite. Wikipedia is a popular online
reference, that frequently obtains top ranking in search
engines as a reference source. How many Wikipedia readers
realize that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at anytime,
regardless of their qualifications.
The concept of using peers to review posts
is not without problems, while obvious vandalism is
often quickly addressed, minor inaccuracies can remain
for a fairly long time. Perhaps, persistence is the
key. How many of us have the time to constantly make
corrections to a reference source? Perhaps the differences
are mere nuances, or perhaps a difference of opinion.
In the case of a wiki preservation of the reference
is subjected to a democratic process or even worse,
mere persistence. Will historical perspectives on hot
political issues on Wikipedia be reflected by the most
persistent group in the future?
The Internet is an evolving medium and
unlike encyclopedia or a reference book it is not static.
While it is easy to determine the age of an encyclopedia,
tracking a web page's origin is far more complex. Syndication
further complicates content credibility. While the original
webmaster might be diligent in keeping information accurate
and up to date. The accuracy of archives and syndicated
content becomes a quagmire. There is no guarantee that
each syndicated copy will remain accurate, or up to
date. As the original publisher has no control over
the content. Should webmasters and publishers avoid
phrases that are not date specific "This year there
were" moving to a more formal "In 2006 there were "?
Suggested steps that will lead to improved
It is critical that we educate both adults and youngsters
about the nature of content on the Internet. Students
should be taught to not only cite their sources, but
also to establish the expertise of their source. This
might seem excessive, but students should second source
all items and assign a level of credibility to their
2. Full Disclosure
Like traditional journalists, bloggers, publishers,
and webmasters should fully disclose relationships and
expertise when writing about a specific field or providing
advice on a topic where they have a personal interest.
Publications and publishers should always maintain transparency
between advertisements and editorial content.
3. Establish Sources
As in life we build confidence through relationships,
so too, we need to build relationships in the online
communities. Sources which have provided accurate information
over time, should be assessed as more reliable than
new sources. While search engines are working to develop
algorithms to assess the quality of a website's content
, nothing can be a replacement for personal experiences
over an extended period of time. If a source has provided
misleading or incorrect information, treat the source
4. Date Content
Quality publishers should make an effort to date content.
Perhaps the statistical information was accurate at
one point in time but due to the passage of time, is
no longer an accurate reflection of current trends.
Any statistical information should be framed with dates
in which the data was collected. Additionally all factual
information should be framed with dates.
The vast majority of research conducted
today uses the Internet as a primary source. It is critical
that the data being collected online is an accurate
reflection of facts and is not merely conjecture, opinion,
or old information.
About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll http://www.feedforall.com
software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds
and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for
a wireless text messaging software company.
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