Types of Internet Sites
Internet sites originate from a variety of sources and contain an equally wide variety of types of information, including advertising, personal stories and narratives, biographical information, business memos, news, research, and statistics, as well as articles from professional journals and publications. It is important to determine exactly what type of resource you are viewing and to understand any underlying biases that may make the source an inappropriate one.
Your Internet sources must be analyzed individually. Not all education and government pages or sites will be appropriate for your particular research need; likewise, a commercial resource is not necessarily an inappropriate source of information. The following comprise the major categories of Internet resources:
Government (federal, state, local) sites may provide laws, statistics, health information, timely information on issues concerning all citizens, or information about government agencies. These sites are not only some of the most widely available on the Internet, but some of the most useful and reliable. The domain name .gov is an indication that the site is a governmental one although some government agencies use other domain names. Some typical government sites include the following:
Many state or county sites have now adopted the domain .us. For example, the official website of the Florida Legislature is http://www.leg.state.fl.us/
Another exception to the rule is MyFlorida: The Official Portal of the state of Florida. The domain of this page is .com.
Education sites may provide scholarly works from academic departments, course syllabi, class schedules, home pages of colleges and high schools, online courses, library catalogs and links to information databases. Education sites tend to be reliable although individual student or faculty pages may vary in authority. The domain name .edu is an indication that the site is from an educational institution although not all education sites have such a domain name. Some typical education sites include the following:
A non-profit site is one sponsored by an organization attempting to influence public opinion. Non-profit organizations may provide studies, statistics and resources. The domain name .org is an indication that the site is from a non-profit or advocacy group. Some typical sites include the following:
The primary purpose of a news site is to provide current information about newsworthy topics. In many cases, these sites will provide the most up-to-date information available. Most major metropolitan newspapers and television news networks maintain websites. As these are commercial operations, the domain name .com will most frequently be found with a news site. Some typical news sites include the following:
A business or marketing Web page is one sponsored by a commercial enterprise. Business sites may provide such resources as annual reports, company histories, stock quotes, and product advertising. These sites may actively promote the sale of items. The domain name .com will be most frequently found with this type of site. Some typical business sites are the following:
Personal Web Pages & Blogs
A personal web page is one authored by an individual not officially associated with an educational, organizational, or governmental institution. These pages vary greatly in terms of content and quality control and should be used cautiously as a source of factual information. Personal sites also tend to have a short life expectancy; for these reasons, personal sites are usually not suitable for serious research. However, a personal site may provide a number of links to other sites that may be reliable. MySpace is currently a popular source of personal web pages.
A variety of domain names may be used for a personal Web page. Frequently, the name of the person will be part of the URL, following a tilde (~), as in ~smith. The domain name .name also indicates a personal Web page.
As discussed in Lesson 1 (Blogs, RSS Feeds, and Podcasts), one type of increasingly popular personal site that provides information is called a "blog." A "blogger" can "post" links and opinions about websites they find useful or interesting. Posts often appear in reverse chronological order. The blog can also serve as a personal journal for the blogger, allowing readers to leave comments.
Wikipedia & Wikis
Wikipedia is a popular and often controversial online encyclopedia created and maintained by volunteers. Entries can be edited by anyone, regardless of their experience, credentials or writing skills.
The word wiki comes from the Hawaiian word for fast and indicates a quick website, as well as the social software used to create it. Wikis allow groups to collaboratively work together in a virtual environment.
Wikipedia has led the movement towards "user-created content" on the Internet earning praises for its extensive coverage of subjects. At the same time, this collaborative community has been scrutinized for its reliability, accuracy and uneven quality.
It has been Wikipedia's collective-wisdom-philosophy "that unmoderated collaboration among well-meaning, informed editors will gradually improve the encyclopedia in its breadth, depth and accuracy, and that, given enough time, the truth will win out and even subtle errors will be caught and corrected" (from “"Wikipedia Sociology").
Students and others performing serious academic research are encouraged to use Wikipedia as a jumping off point, not as a primary source.
Watch the video clip found in the box below titled "Colbert vs. Wikipedia," host and humorist Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report, comments on Wikipedia (note: the free Flash player is required to view this video,and it is best viewed with the Firefox browser. If the embedded video does not work, try the following link: "Colbert vs. Wikipedia."
Increasingly, many websites are supported by advertisements. Web advertisements are usually presented as banners, hyperlinks or pop-up windows. As an information consumer, it is your job to decide whether there is a conflict of interest between the sponsor and the objectivity of the website. The presence or absence of advertisements does not automatically brand a website as authoritative or unreliable, objective or biased. Sites must be evaluated individually according to the criteria in the Evaluation Questions section. A webfomercial is comparable to a television infomercial. If a commercial site disguises itself as an informational site, it should be viewed cautiously.
Discussion groups have their own set of criteria and problems related to quality control. It is fair to assume that most all conversations on mailing lists, newsgroups and in chat rooms are opinion. Because messages to most of these groups are processed by software packages, there is little or no attempt to control the content. Look for a link from the signature to the writer's credentials or home page to help judge the credibility of the posting. Messages taken out of context or read out of the thread of the discussion topic can also lead to problems, so you should read the entire discussion thread.
Search Engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN should be evaluated based on their ease of use and the quality of the websites they provide before using. However, just because a website was found using one of these search engines does not guarantee that the sites listed are “good” websites. Search engines rank their results based on their company’s own proprietary, automated method. They do not use the methods you will learn in the Evaluation Questions section.
Each website found via a search engine must be personally evaluated based on the criteria you are about to learn.