By Joel Klebanoff
On March 14, 2006, The New York Times published an article titled "On the Web, Much Advice, and Some Even Rings True" that mentioned a few travel Web sites and blogs that the reporter found to be useful and trustworthy. Because you must sort through so much garbage on the Internet to get to the good stuff and because so few reliable tools are available to help you recognize what's worthwhile and what's not, the information provided by the article is obviously helpful. Nonetheless, it's insufficient.
Web sites come and go frequently, and you depend on the Internet for information on more than just travel. A few rules of thumb that would allow you to very quickly assess the integrity, or lack thereof, of any Web site, regardless of its longevity and subject matter, would be much more valuable than a discussion of a few good current sites on a single topic. Because I'm so devoted to you, my loyal reader—MC Press tells me that, believe it or not, there's more than one reader of this column, but my self-deprecating nature does not allow me to believe that there's more than one who's loyal—I decided to share with you some of my knowledge and experience in this area.
Klebanoff's Web Integrity Rules of Thumb
- A claim that the Queen of England personally recommends a particular hair restoration, breast augmentation, or penile implant product is usually indicative of a Web site that plays fast and loose with the truth. It would be prudent to be skeptical of everything you read on the site.
- You would be justified in questioning the credentials of an English literature site that swears it is written solely by professors from the most prestigious universities, but consistently misspells the names Shakespeare, Dickens, and Milton, along with the words "professor" and "university."
- A blog entry that claims that the best way to eliminate spyware on your computer is to download and run software from we-steal-your-cash-and-kidnap-your-firstborn.com should raise a few alarm bells in your mind. If not, you deserve what you get.
- A Web site offering a computer tip that suggests you can vastly improve the resolution on your computer screen by opening all of the blinds and curtains on your windows (the usually rectangular, mostly glass objects set in the wall to let light in, not your computer's operating system), getting naked, and dancing vigorously throughout your home is a hoax. I'd also recommend that you investigate the possibility that the people across the street have hacked into your Internet connection.
- A Web site that claims to be free but requires registration and suggests that you use the name on your credit card as your ID and your credit card number as your password is not to be trusted.
- You'd be well advised to ignore a message declaring, "This Web site is best viewed with your firewall and anti-virus software turned off." Your computer will thank you for not following that advice. Obviously, I mean that metaphorically. If your computer literally thanks you, it may already be too late. Legitimate software is rarely that polite, but spyware and viruses may try to lull you into a false sense of security.
- A restaurant review site that claims to be an independent, unbiased source of gastronomic assessments is probably lying about the independent and unbiased part if it never disparages a restaurant in the least and it never assigns less than five stars, its highest rating, to any restaurant, including to Chez Puke-a-lot, an establishment that was condemned by the health department and that is run as part of an innovative, but exceptionally unscrupulous, undertaker's business development program.
- A geography site that labels London as the capital of the Republic of Mongolia does not do an adequate job of fact checking.
- A Web site claiming to be the official government site for a major country is probably not legitimate if its home page sports a coat of arms that includes a cockroach eating guacamole overtop a phallic symbol.
- A PhD from an online university that advertises exclusively on porn sites will probably not garner wide acceptance, particularly if you're not required to take any courses or write a thesis in order to obtain your doctorate. In fact, if your local school board finds out that you were stupid enough to send such a university any money, it will probably revoke your high school diploma, assuming you have one. And, by the way, how did you, a fine, upstanding citizen, find out about a university that advertises only on porn sites in the first place? Just asking.
- Always check the exclamation quotient before buying anything from a Web site. Here's how you calculate it: First, count all of the punctuation marks on the page. Then, count just the exclamations marks. Divide the number of exclamation marks by the total number of punctuation marks. If the result is greater than 0.75, beware!!!!!!
- The caps lock quotient is another good way to recognize excessive hype. If more than 75% of a Web page has been typed with the caps lock on, a wise person will not get a warm and fuzzy feeling about whatever is being sold. A gullible idiot will order and pay for at least a dozen of them using his or her credit card. (Note to people who fall into the latter category: Being a wise person is good; being a gullible idiot is bad.)
- Don't get too excited if, when surfing the Web, you see a banner ad that flashes furiously and says you've just won a fabulous prize for being the millionth visitor to the site. There might—just might, mind you—be some fine print that will deprive you of the reward. Either that or your definition of "fabulous" will undoubtedly be somewhat loftier than the advertiser's definition. Oh, and expect a little spam after giving the advertiser your email address in order to claim your fabulous prize, which, unfortunately, may mysteriously get lost in the mail. Did I say a little spam? You'll probably need to hook a couple of fiber-optic cables directly into your computer to handle the extra load.
- Finally, in no case should you make a life-or-death decision based on something you read on the Web without first verifying the information with at least one, and preferably 100, additional independent Web sources, unless, of course, your life is not very high on the list of things you cherish.
Courtesy Notes: If there is a Web site with the domain name of we-steal-your-cash-and-kidnap-your-firstborn.com, I'd like, as a public service, to inform you that your site was unavailable at the time of writing and the whois service I checked couldn't find your registration. Also, if there is a restaurant called Chez Puke-a-lot, I suggest you get yourself listed on Google so you can be found. In the unlikely event that either we-steal-your-cash-and-kidnap-your-firstborn.com or Chez Puke-a-lot is a real entity, I apologize for any offense I might have inadvertently caused in my vain attempt at humor and I ask, what the hell were you thinking when you came up with that name?
|This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.|
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