It's important to learn how to evaluate the information you find on the Internet, because it has no regulating authority to make sure that the information presented is accurate. Anyone can post anything on the Internet, whether it is true or not. Here are some criteria to help you decide whether the information you find online is reliable:
- Who is providing the website's information? Government, educational and institutional providers can often be identified by their Web addresses. Government agencies usually have the letters ".gov" in their addresses, as in www.irs.gov for the Internal Revenue Service. Colleges and universities usually have the letters ".edu" in their Web addresses, like this one for Harvard: www.harvard.edu. Institutions will often have the letters ".org" in their addresses, as in www.aarp.org for the American Association for Retired Persons. The letters ".com" in a website's address stand for "commercial."
- If it is a commercial Web site for a business, check to see whether the company itself put up the site, or if it's an individual's Web page about a company or its products. Most organizations will list addresses and phone numbers for their headquarters and key company representatives.
- How current is the information? Often websites will provide the date the information was posted.
Is the purpose and target audience for the information easily
- Are there links to other reputable sites?
- Do all the features and links work?
- Many sites have received awards or recommendations from reputable sources. For instance, the county's website received the Center for Digital Government's "2007 Best of the Web" award. The library's area includes a large number of links to other sites which have been reviewed and are recommended by our staff librarians.
- Associations for specific industries will often link to member organization's websites. For example, the American Bookseller's Association's site links to Web sites of bookstores, and the U.S. Department of Education has links to sites of different schools.
A good website will be constructed so that you can find the information you need quickly and easily.
- Do the pages load quickly?
- Is the navigation through the site understandable and easy to follow?
- Are the pages designed with the most important information at the top, so that minimal scrolling is needed?
Other signs of a good Web site are
- It encourages you to explore.
- It stimulates your thinking.
- The information is presented in an appealing way.
- The site is worth more than one visit.
The Internet is home to a vast number of websites. The number grows continually, and those in place change from visit to visit. While not every website will have all of the characteristics we've listed, a good one will have at least some. If you have questions about information you've found on the Web, or want additional website recommendations, call or visit any branch.