First, I would recommend that you read My article on quality evaluation both on the Web and other information.
Here are some other readings excerpts you will want to consider:
(from Sherlock's Fortnightly Tip on Web Use)
May 25, 1998
"Mr. Holmes recognizes that there is a wealth of information on the Internet. It's also true that separating the wheat from the chaff is difficult. Once you've used a search engine to find what you're looking for, how do you know that what you've found is true?
"In the search for valid information, the information professionals - librarians - are again at the forefront. There are several guides to evaluating web resources which might help evaluate the content you find.
"Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library, has two checklists for thinking critically about web resources. The first is a set of general guidelines for all pages, the second targets evaluating sites in specific subject or discipline areas.
"Ms. Grassian makes some good points about source, conflicts, and currency. Including accessibility and design criteria is really outside the question of evaluating the site content, but may have some impact on usability issues.
"Hope N. Tillman, Director of Libraries, Babson College, has an excellent - and continually updated - article on evaluating quality on the net. It's easy to understand and makes comparisons between vanity, gray, and scholarly publishing in the print world and its equivalents on the Internet.
"Ms. Tillman also provides an overview of some of the ranked and categorized tools available to help searchers find quality sites. Sadly, some of these tools are no longer updating on a regular basis and fail to include newer or recently reworked sites.
"Finally, for those who want to do a full review of the issues and opinions involved, Mr. Holmes recommends the extensive links maintained by Alistair Smith as part of the World Wide Web Virtual Library. It contains the sites referenced above as well as many other rating and evaluation materials. "
(from Esther Grassian's article on using Web Resources Critically0
by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library
The World Wide Web has a lot to offer, but not all sources are equally valuable or reliable. Here are some points to consider. For additional points regarding Web sites for subject disciplines, see Thinking Critically about Discipline-Based World Wide Web Resources.
Created by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library, 6/95. Last updated 10/98. © 1997 Regents of the University of California.
Permission is granted for unlimited non-commercial use of this guide.
(from Esther Grassian's second article)
by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library
The World Wide Web has a lot to offer, but not all sources are equally valuable or reliable. Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources offers some basic points to consider. Here are additional points to consider regarding Web sites for subject disciplines.
Content & Evaluation
Source & Date
Created by Esther Grassian, 10/10/97. Copyright © 1997 UCLA College Library.
Permission is granted for unlimited non-commercial use of this guide.
(from Hope Tillman):
Consider the continuum of information on the net as opposed to the continuum in print. Is it really any different? And if so, what makes that difference?
In print: vanity to very scholarly/specific
On the Net: vanity to very scholarly/specific but with more variation and with the inclusion of promotion/advertising which may be more difficult to differentiate on the net than in print or mass media/television.
The "home page" may be nothing more than a form of vanity or self publishing. Within what I might characterize vanity would be the sites where an individual decides to share working papers or information they have been working on for a dissertation. Many home pages have been through a rigorous review process and should not be equated with the term "vanity."
Vanity publishing A vanity work may be a very specific document that has information of great value but it hasn't been through the peer review process intrinsic to scholarship or it hasn't been disseminated by the trade publishing industry. Heretofore, vanity and short-run specialty publishing has been possible in print and can be "quality" in nature, although its value may not be as easy to determine without analysis. It will not have some of the visual clues which facilitate the viewer's critical analysis.
My grandfather had my grandmother's childhood memoirs published and distributed to family and friends. I always thought of it as a very entertaining and pretty well written story of a little girl growing up as part of an acting troupe in the midwest. The title was "A Little Girl Goes Barnstorming." Reading it, it belongs in the history of the American stage 19th-early 20th century. How did it really differ from regular publishing? It was carefully edited but no publisher was involved. We look to publishers to give us assurance of added value and provided quality control -- both editorial review and adherence to standards.
While the term vanity press is a derogatory one, the content of what comes out of a vanity press may not be bad. But it is, from an information professional's standpoint, much more suspect. It lacks any of the trappings that scholarly publishing affords.
Grey literature is another category - pamphlets, preprints, technical reports -- I am not sure the Internet is any better or worse in its indexing than were the subject based vertical files of my early library career years. ERIC has played a valuable role of giving us access to some of the gray literature for the education and library profession. I would think anything that is submitted to ERIC today probably could find its way onto the Web as well, and probably should.
Professional associations have played a historical role in the indexing of hard-to-find materials within their scope. For instance, in 1972 the American Gas Association formed the Library Services Committee to participate in information sharing among members, including the preparation of bibliographies of concern to the industry, a directory of gas industry libraries, and a union list of reference tools and services. (Shirk, Virginia R. and Davis, Marc L. "Gas Libraries: An industry-wide network," Science & Technology Libraries, vol 1 no. 2 (1981), 15-22). Distribution of those tools was limited to members of that association not so much by their choice but by feasibility.
Today, a group of professionals such as the Australian Firenet can share their information with the world, for better or worse. Firenet, hosted by the Australian National University, is a cooperative set of World Wide Web servers for discipline specialists in the field of fire management and fire ecology. In this case librarians have not been involved. FIRENET's specialized publications are locally mounted and managed and distributed via the Internet. Among other awards, they have been honored with the 911 Fire Police Medical Web Page First Alarm Site Award. In this case, I would consider a professional award much more telling than one from one of the many Internet awarding bodies.
The role of professional associations can already be seen. Contrast FIRENET with the American Mathematical Society, which I would put on the scholarly end of the spectrum. Access is provided to MathSciNet, a web-accessible subscription database of the data in Mathematical Reviews (MR) and Current Mathematical Publications (CMP), which index and review the mathematics research literature from 1940 to the present. Bibliographic data only is available from 1940 to 1979, and from 1980 to the present both bibliographic data and review texts are available. Items listed in the annual indexes of Mathematical Reviews but not given an individual review are also included. Those in Mathematical Reviews appear first in Current Mathematical Publications. Institutional site licenses are the primary way that users get access. The cost for an individual can be steep, but MathSci Online is offered via commercial services such as Dialog, CompuServe as an option. In this case the web is integrated with the association's publishing program and can be seen as just another distribution medium, to meet the needs of their customers.
(from Alistair Smith's WWW Virtual Library article)
This is a "toolbox" of criteria that enable Internet information sources to be evaluated for use in libraries, e.g. for inclusion in resource guides, and helping users evaluate information found. Comments are welcomed by Alastair Smith.
Other resources providing criteria are listed in the Evaluation
of Information Sources section of the Information
Quality WWW Virtual Library
Another version of these criteria are at:
Smith, Alastair G. (1997) Testing the Surf: Criteria for Evaluating Internet Information Resources. The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 8, no. 3 http://info.lib.uh.edu/pr/v8/n3/smit8n3.html
Is the resource an integral resource, or has it been abstracted from another source, perhaps losing meaning or links in the process?
Specific aspects related to the content include the accuracy, authority, currency and uniqueness of a resource.
Are there political or ideological biases? The Internet has become a prime marketing and advertising tool, and it is advisable to ask "what motivation does the author have for placing this information on the Net". Frequently the answer is that the information is placed to advertise, or support a particular point of view.
Examing the URL can give clues to the authority of a source. For instance a tilde "~" usually indicates a personal web directory, rather than part of the organisation's official web site.
Browsers may allow you to view the date of creation and modification of a file (in Netscape View|Document Info). Remember that this may not be the date that the actual information was created or reviewed.
On the Internet, redundancy may be valuable - a particular site may not be available when required, and an alternative or mirror site may have to be used. Also, some users may not be able to access certain types of resource, for example telnet or image-based web sites.
A related criteria to graphic design is navigational design, mentioned below in the context of browsability and organisation.
An issue in providing access to electronic documents is whether a library should just provide links to the originating site, or "acquire" the publication for local access. Poor workability may indicate that the library should store the data locally, if intellectual property considerations allow this.
Aspects of workability include:
Has the resource been designed to work well with one software and user interface (for example the latest Netscape release on a T1 connection) but be difficult to use with others (for example Lynx at 2400bps)? It is useful to test resources with a variety of browsers and connections. Telnet resources may pose problems to users who have not installed a telnet client. Images and other multimedia may create problems if users have not installed the correct viewer.
While the extent to which older browsers are still used is a source of argument, there are still Lynx only users, frames challenged users, visually impaired users out there, and sites should attempt to cater for them. This criteria is less important where users are in a defined computing environment, such as a library's inhouse terminals.
In terms of (a), users paying traffic charges are already having to consider the costs of connection, and may want include this in criteria for selection, for instance to favour text based rather than image intensive sites, if the image content is the same.
Increasingly we will see sites where (b) is a consideration, and a charge
is made for the intellectual content of the site. Of course, libraries
have been dealing with charged online services such as Dialog for many
years, but the Internet has created an expectation and an opportunity to
make charged services available to end users. Libraries have a role in
negotiating subscriptions and site licenses for organisational access to
charged services. If online transactions are used to pay for information,
the security of these transactions at a site may become important. Charged
services may be available with limited functionality, or for trial periods,
for free; librarians will need to decide whether to provide the enhanced
or the limited version.