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Is This Information For Real?

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Mary Ellen Bates, Bates Information Services, Inc.


Logo for Bates Information Services, Inc.8 March 2005. On an info pro e-mail discussion list, I had mentioned several techniques for identifying members of corporate boards of directors. In response, I received an e-mail from a colleague, who said, "I tried Hoovers.com as you recommended, searching for Carly Fiorina. It didn't list any of the board positions she holds, as described at www.surferess.com/CEO/html/carly_fiorina.html." Sure enough, that site lists her as member of the board of four organizations, none of which shows up in the search results from Hoovers.com.

But -- and you knew there was going to be a "but" -- I got curious about the Surferess.com site, I took the URL my colleague had given me, and deleted the text up to the last forward slash (/) -- that is, I navigated up the directory two levels, to www.surferess.com/CEO/.


What was most telling about this experience was how easy it is for people to rely on Web sites that look authoritative, but which aren't necessarily accurate or up to date.


When I looked at that page, I saw some interesting items. First, it says that the page "is for the purpose of entertainment and education." The page also notes: "The CEO list section of this site is no longer updated." That told me that I had better look elsewhere for a reliable source of information on Carly Fiorina's corporate activities.

What was most telling about this experience was how easy it is for people to rely on Web sites that look authoritative, but which aren't necessarily accurate or up to date. (For an example of a site that, at first glance, looks reliable, see the Web page for the RYT Hospital.)

Following are some of the techniques I use to figure out whether a site can be relied upon. First, is there contact information and background on the site owner? And does that information correspond to the information from a domain name registry site such as Whois Source or Global WhoIs?

How frequently is the page updated? I usually don't pay attention to a date stamp on the page that indicates the page was updated today. There are scripts that automatically generate the current date. Rather, I look for internal evidence of updating.

Are the most current press releases or "articles about us" from six months or a year ago? Does it list as "upcoming events" dates in the past? Does it describe as a "new product" something that was released in 2003? If the internal clues suggest the page hasn't been updated recently, be sure you find a second source for any information you glean from the site.

Are there any links to the site from other sites? (Use the link: syntax to search for pages that link to the page. The syntax in Google is link:www.whatever.com; the syntax in Yahoo and MSN is link:http://www.whatever.com.) If you don't find another reputable site linking to the site you are evaluating, it may not be well-respected by experts in that field. (Note that if this is a very new Web site, it may not have established a reputation yet.)

And finally, does it pass the straight-face test? Compare, for example, the official site for the World Trade Organization, at www.wto.org and what purports to be the WTO's page at www.gatt.org. The latter, which on its face resembles the official WTO site, discusses the scheduled disbanding of the WTO, which certainly doesn't sound like what you would expect from the WTO.

For more resources on how to evaluate a Web site, see Evaluating Quality and Information Quality.

2004, 2005 Mary Ellen Bates all rights reserved.


Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Boulder, CO.


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Created: 8 March 2005
Revised: 18 October 2007 (no text revisions)
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/archive/verifying_information.html

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