2.2 Evaluating web resources
One of the good things about the Web is also one of its drawbacks – anybody can publish anything. This means that the Web is an amazing source of information and is full of fascinating resources.
However, in order to get to useful information you may have to work your way through lots of irrelevant material. Even when you think you have found something relevant, how do you know it is reliable, and how can you judge the quality, accuracy and bias of what you find?
Most publications such as journals, books or magazines have an editorial process that means the material is selected and approved. In academic journals this is usually done by a process called peer review, so that when you find an article in a journal you can be sure that it has been reviewed and is acceptable to experts in that particular field.
This is not the case on the Web, so as you proceed with your studies you will need to develop your own judgement about the quality of resources that you find. The following activity will help you to start thinking about this.
Activity 4 (exploratory)
In this activity you will look at some websites, and comment on your impressions. This will give you a chance to develop skills in assessing the usability of websites for the intended audience and reliability of information that you find on them.
Have a look at these two websites and answer the questions below about each of them.
http://www.e-skills.com [accessed 3 October 2006]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [accessed 3 October 2006]
How easy is it to find your way around the sites?
What is the 'look and feel' of the site? Do you like it? Does the design get in the way of the content? Does the design match the tone of the content?
What is the writing style like? Is it friendly, academic, humorous, factual, commercial…?
What do you think is the target or intended audience for the site? Is it the general public, professionals in that field, academics, children, etc.?
How reliable is the information on the site likely to be? Is it likely to be biased in any way? (You should try to find out who is the owner or author of the website and then comment on whether you think they are likely to take a particular viewpoint and whether they are an 'authority' on the subject.) How up to date does the website appear to be?
The site was easy to navigate with menu bars at the top and on the left-hand side. The site felt very comfortable to use – the design was simple and consistent throughout so it was easy to find my way around. The writing style was quite friendly yet professional. The design seemed to be appropriate – i.e. it was professional, clean and modern, without any clutter.
The intended audience seemed to be IT professionals or people wanting to work in IT. But the site was not full of jargon; in fact the language was very simple and straightforward. There were sections for employers, but also for people wanting to find training and gain qualifications.
The information seemed to be reliable – the owner of the site is a national agency that represents IT employers. Consequently, the information could be biased towards the viewpoint of employers rather than the employees of their companies. There were a lot of contact addresses in most regions. It seemed very up to date – for example the news page had items from the current month.
My first impression was that the site was very cluttered, so I wasn't sure where to look. There were links all over the place, as well as a small menu bar for main areas. I can imagine getting very lost and spending a huge amount of time on this site by following links within articles. But it was also quite good to be able to follow my own train of thought through the information. The writing styles varied depending on the author – some were quite hard going, others easier to read.
The intended audience is anyone who wants to find out about some piece of general knowledge. It can be viewed in several different languages, which make it accessible to a wider audience.
The main point of this website is that anyone can edit it or add to items in the encyclopaedia. This makes it very interesting and it is not offering any particular perspective or viewpoint. In fact one of the principles of the website is that authors should have a neutral point of view. It is regularly updated, with people adding to it every day. It is difficult to say how reliable the information might be. Anyone can make any changes at any time, so the information could be wrong. But other users can correct errors, so the collaborative effort should make the information reliable overall.