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A seminar on 'Building professional image through website - Emerging trends and unknown techniques' was held by Prime Point Foundation on 27th July 2002 at Hotel Palmgrove, Madras, India.

Evaluating information sources on the net - H R Mohan

The Internet, the network of computers all over the world is a phenomenon which had an unprecedented growth in the last few years. The project which started in early 1970 as a defence initiative interconnecting just four computers in the united states has now grown into a network of over six million computers having about 28 million domains and a user base of about 550 million across the globe.

The Net had become extremely popular as it offered a platform forMr H R Mohan, Chief Systems Manager, The Hindu communicating with people and share information. With the advent of desktop and home computers, the growth in information is mind boggling. A recent survey estimates that about 250 MB of information is being generated per head and most of them in electronic form making it sharable through Internet.

When we use a research or academic library, the books, journals and other resources have already been evaluated by scholars, publishers and librarians. Every resource we find has been evaluated in one way or another before we ever see it. When we use the World Wide Web, none of this applies. There are no filters. Because anyone can write a Web page, documents of the widest range of quality, written by authors of the widest range of authority, are available on an even playing field. Excellent resources reside along side the most dubious. The Internet epitomizes the concept of Caveat lector: Let the reader beware. On the Net one has to distinguish real information from its three look alikes, or counterfeits: propaganda, misinformation and disinformation. Understanding the counterfeits will enable us to become a much more critical consumer of information..

When there is a need to evaluate the information sources, in our case the web sites, we may consider the following criteria:

  • Purpose
  • Content (substance, depth, uniqueness, accuracy, currency)
  • Authority (institutional affiliation, developer credentials)
  • Scope
  • Audience
  • Currency
  • Special Features
  • Organization/Format (easily grasped, logical, clearly divided, use of frames)
  • Accessibility (consistent, speedy availability, text-based alternative pages, browser limitations, need for additional software)
  • Reliability (Who is the publisher?)
  • Site Search Engine (clear instructions on usage, Boolean capabilities,
  • keyword searching, frequent index updates, speed, well-formatted output)
  • Fact or Opinion?
  • Marketing oriented information / Blending Info, Advt & Entertainment
  • Use policies at e-commerce sites

The information needs of people differ depending on the purpose. While students and researchers look for reference materials, patients seek health and medical information. By and large majority of the people on the Net look for product information to decide on what to purchase. Misinformation in all these cases would have far reaching impact. Because bad advice has serious consequences: people who believe in health fraud scams may die, people who fall for business scams will lose money, and people who trust bad legal advice can end up in jail.

There are sources on the Net, which evaluate and review the websites and rate them. But the phenomenal growth of websites made their task extremely difficult. Traditional sources such as site catalogues, search engines, list servers and magazine reviews provide reviews of sites. Some times, one gets a doubt on the results of the search engines considering the commercial interests of these search engines. Some e-commerce sites get certified by agencies like WebTrust (developed to addresses consumer and business concerns over privacy and security), to increase the comfort and confidence level of users.

In the recent past, there is a growing tendency of the websites to collect personal information and use them for various purposes. This has affected the privacy of individuals to a great extent. A no. of sites are certified by initiatives like TRUSTe to build the users confidence and trust on the Internet.

In a nutshell, if one can satisfy by answering the following questions, he can be rest assured on the information he can get from the site and its usability.

  • Is it clear who has written the information?
  • Are the aims of the site clear?
  • Does the site achieve its aims?
  • Is the site relevant to me?
  • Can the information be checked?
  • When was the site produced?
  • Is the information biased in any way?
  • Does the site tell you about choices open to you?
  • In the presentation, we can take up few sites and evaluate on their usefulness as information sources.

H R Mohan - Profile

A graduate in Engineering from IIT Madras is currently with India's National Newspaper THE HINDU as Chief Systems Manager. He looks after the Internet Publishing of THE HINDU, BUSINESS LINE, FRONTLINE, SPORTSTAR and other group publications apart from the Corporate MIS and Library Indexing & Archival.

His areas of interest include: Management Information Systems, Office automation, Market Research & Analysis, Data Bases and Knowledge Management, Training & Development, Financial Analysis, Portfolio Management, Electronic and Internet Publishing, Digital Libraries and Content Creation.

Mr. Mohan is associated with professional bodies in the areas of IT, Library, Management, Technical, Communication and Media such as CSI, IEEE, IEEECS, ACM, IndUNIX, MALA. RCIS, SIS, NYAS, AIMA, MMA, ORSI, TWIN and NMF. He is the Fellow of the Computer Society of India. Currently, he is the chairman of the Microcomputers Division of the CSI. He is also in the executive committees of CSI, ORSI, MALA, RCIS.

Mr. Mohan has been the editor of CSI Digest, a quarterly monograph published in association with IFIP and currently edits INFOLINE the newsletter of CSI Madras chapter. He also runs a regular INFO QUIZ column in the CSI Communications.

Mr. Mohan delivers guest lectures and conducts quizzes at various institutions and forums in the areas of IT, Internet, Web Marketing, Electronic Commerce and related areas. He believes in information sharing and makes himself available for such initiatives.

He may be contacted at hrmohan@vsnl.com

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