EVALUATING WEB PAGES ............truth or trash                  

BAREBONES 101
(Created by University of South Carolina Library)

CHECKING THE SOURCE
You can expect to find everything on the web: silly sites, hoaxes, frivolous and serious personal pages, commercials, reviews, articles, full-text documents, academic courses, scholarly papers, reference sources, and scientific reports. How do you sort it all out?

You can tell a lot about the authenticity of a page by finding out all you can about its author/publisher.

First, you need to know how to read a web address, or URL (Universal Resource Locator). Let's look at the URL for this tutorial:

http://www.sc.edu/beaufort/library/bones.html

Here's what it all means:

  • "http" is the transfer protocol (type of information being transferred)
  • "www" is the host computer name (server name)
  • "sc" (University of South Carolina) is the second-level domain name
  • "edu" is the top-level domain name
  • "beaufort" is the directory name
  • "library" is the sub-directory name
  • "bones" is the file name
  • "html" is the file type and, in this case, stands for hypertext mark-up language (that's what the computer reads)

Only a few top-level domains are currently recognized, but this is changing. Here is a list of the domains generally accepted by all:

  • .edu -- educational site (usually a university or college)
  • .com -- commercial business site
  • .gov -- U.S. governmental/non-military site
  • .mil -- U.S. military sites and agencies
  • .net -- networks, internet service providers, organizations
  • .org -- U.S. non-profit organizations and others

In mid November 2000, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to accept an additional seven new suffixes, which are expected to be made available to users by the middle of 2001:

  • .aero -- restricted use by air transportation industry
  • .biz -- general use by businesses
  • .coop -- restricted use by cooperatives
  • .info -- general use by both commercial and non-commercial sites
  • .museum -- restricted use by museums
  • .name -- general use by individuals
  • .pro -- restricted use by certified professionals and professional entities

NOTE: Because the Internet was created in this country, "US" was not originally assigned to U.S. domain names; however, it is used to designate state and local government hosts, including many public schools. Other countries have their own two letter codes as the final part of their domain names, e.g., .uk for United Kingdom; .ca for Canada; .fr for France, etc.

Ask yourself this: Who is responsible for the page you are accessing? Is it a governmental agency or other official source? A university? A business, corporation or other commercial interest? An individual? You can generally rely on the GOV, MIL and EDU hostnames to present accurate information. The NET, ORG and COM are more uncertain and might require additional verification.


CHECKING THE VITAL INFORMATION
A reputable Web page will usually provide you with the following information:

  • Last date page updated
  • Mail-to link for questions, comments
  • Name, address, telephone number, and email address of page owner

Now ask yourself this: If the page owner is not readily recognizable, does he provide you with credentials or some information on his sources or authority?


CHECKING THE CONTENT
On the web, each individual can be his/her own publisher, and many are. Don't accept everything you read just because it's printed on a web page. Unlike scholarly books and journal articles, web sites are seldom reviewed or refereed. It's up to you to check for bias and to determine objectivity. Who sponsors the page? The Flat Earth Society?  Who is linking to the page, and what links to other pages does the page itself maintain?

Look to see if the page owner tells you when the page was last updated. Is the information current? Can it be verified at other, similar sites?

Try to distinguish between promotion, advertising, and serious content. This is getting to be more difficult, as an increasing number of pages must look to commercial support for their continuance.

Watch out for deliberate frauds and hoaxes. Some folks really enjoy playing games on the Web. 


ASSESSING WEB PAGE STABILITY
There is no way to freeze a web page in time. Unlike the print world with its publication dates, editions, ISBN numbers, etc., web pages are fluid. There's no bibliographic control on the web. The page you cite today may be altered or revised tomorrow, or it might disappear completely. The page owner might or might not acknowledge the changes and, if he relocates the page, might or might not leave a forwarding address.

Try to assess the stability of the pages you reference. Again, one of the best ways to do this is to look closely at the page sponsor, last dated updated, and the authority of the author(s).

When you are writing a paper and using web pages as source material, keep a backup of what you find on the web, (either as a printout or saved to disk) so that you can verify your sources later on if need be.

To learn more on the subject, check these links out . . .

Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet

Evaluating Web Resources

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly