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Bad Information and the Web
it seems to be growing

 10:23 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

One of the challenges of the information explosion on the web is the rise of BAD information.

It's been noted many times that "you can't believe half of what your read and none of what you hear" [Lou Reed] but it recently came home to me in spades. I was doing some research to write up a bit of content for a site - looking for background info on some favorite music. Mostly old, public domain titles.

Amazing to behold - site after site in total disagreement on who wrote words or music or both to some very famous songs. There's even wrong info on high profile sites such as Amazon. In a few cases I decided to resort to a trip to the LIBRARY and actually read PRINTED BOOKS to be sure that I wasn't adding to the pile of garbage that's out there.

I know, this is just a rant - and the issue will be with us for a long time. I'm sure for the rest of my life at least.

Caveat Lector!



 10:53 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Sit in a pub and listen to what people are saying - most of it is complete rubbish (and I proudly include myself in this).

These people can then go home, make a web site and suddenly their thoughts become more important - they can technically be accessed by the entire world.

(Unrelated subject... I still laugh at web designers who boast that the entire world is your target market if you have a web site. I laughed even more when one of my clients (toilet hire company) proved this ridiculous fact as true by being asked to take a portaloo over to Hong Kong.)

I did once hear about a web site that deliberately did factually-incorrect book-reviews and in-depth analysis, so all the sixth form students who used the web for their research instead of actually reading the book got bitten.

Seemed a bit meant at the time, but I checked a dozen web sites and took what came up most often so didn't get stung ;)


 11:12 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Completely agree, Tedster.
Quality of information on the web is often very bad. Weren't it for press and TV it couldn't get any worse.


 11:27 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Its just a result of publishing and distribution has become less costly now. With freer access to tools of distribution, comes a higher variability of quality in content.

But i dont think its a problem at all.

Books disagree, and so do newspapers, they both provide incorrect data. So do websites.

But because traditional media takes much more financial resources to produce and distribute; their content is often better researched and written because the financial investment is much more significant. Close down a newspaper because of bad content and you lose heaps. Close down a website? - Well just buy another domain and start again!

A key life skill has always been to assess information by the quality of its source, whatever the medium. Such things as the credibility of other parts of the site, the number of incoming links from credible sites, the amount of identifying information on authors.. all are imperfect indicators of credibility but taken together its adds up.

How do you assess the quality of an atlas? Well i look for the info on my very small home town. If they get that right, I will be more inclined to beleive what the say about places i dont know. Same for websites, especially if they are related in same way, you can assess the quality of one web site in a "family" by the quality of their sister or owner sites, and maybe at a stretch, the quality of their incoming or outgoing links which you already know.

These are skills that have always being needed, and with the web you have to raise the level of analysis again.

I dont think its a bad thing.

Its just a different media and different rules apply.

For example the Web now provides some tools already to assess the quality of information - PR for one if you think about it, - as well as teh ability to find out much more about specific authors or sites by doing a search for what others have said about them on the web. Others will emerge. So while we may find "bad" stuff, we have far more tools to assess "stuff". Much more than in traditional media.

Which leads to my next point.

Perhaps one of the positive things is that it may challenge our often unwarranted assumption that anything in print, newspapers, books, AND the web can be trusted without evaluating the source.

[edited by: chiyo at 11:40 am (utc) on Jan. 17, 2003]


 11:30 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

In my field of expertise, I have seen the websites of others with either outdated info or just plain old misinformation.



brotherhood of LAN

 11:35 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Once upon a time they made something called pagerank, it was meant to display information from authorative sources ;)

I agree, there is mis-information all over the web, but not all of the blame should be placed on 'the guy down the pub putting up a web page'

There are so many factors at work on the web it just seems inevitable that information is mis-represented (think Froogle price tags as an example)

When a high school kid goes to a dictionary to find the correct spelling of a word, are they informed its International English or U.S. English? Sometimes it's not just mis-information its the lack of the right information on the right page..and the fact the info can be edited at any time.

Perhaps one of the positive things is that it may challenge our often unwarranted assumption that anything in print, newspapers, books, AND the web can be trusted without evaluating the source.

It would be nice if people would state their references more, but then again, on the web people sometimes get shy about linking to other sites, which brings me back to my original point - there are many factors on the web - and it makes reading between the lines so much more fun.


 11:43 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Good point Mr Lan - it's been something of a long week and I'm not thinking that clearly today :)


 11:47 am on Jan 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Another reason could be that the Web allows people to "hide" more. Not only the Web. My email contains 95% lies every day! And thats because many dont have to "own" their info - they can hide behin anonymity.

The peoblem is when people belive anonymous sources, whatever the media, (even in the pub!). Old journo creed - "check your sources" - and then check them again.


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