By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
When I write, there is often a fact that needs to be verified or supporting material to be gathered. My first recourse in such matters is my personal library, which is not small and often contains what I seek if it is business related. I also am prone to save magazine articles possessing information for which I envision a possible future use. I file these by category, which is nicely functional until I happen across an informational gem that covers multiple topics. I also tap family, friends, and acquaintances to assist in my search for information that is accurate, relevant, and useful to you.
I also use the Internet search engine, Google, where I am adept at zeroing in on the targeted data. Although the resulting list of sites is correct, the information contained within those sites may not be. Knowing what to trust and what not to trust on the Internet is part common sense and part intuition.
Through experience, I developed an informal methodology to ascertain the veracity of what I read on websites. First, I give the site a visual once-over, looking for indications that it is second-rate and of questionable merit. An unprofessional layout is a sure turnoff, as are poorly laid out designs or confusing navigation. I look at dates as well. If the copyright date on the site is from the prior millennium, it indicates that the information is not current and I ignore it. “Updated on” dates are likewise illuminating. Again, if it was last updated several years ago, I don’t give it much credence. However, I am also suspicious of sites that give the current date for the last update – especially when it is 7:30 in the morning. I have even seen “updated on” dates emanating from the future. Visitor counters smack of a novice design, doing little other than to prove the designer knows how to implement a counter. After all, if the counter says you are visitor 17, it suggests the site doesn’t have much to offer. Conversely, being visitor 2,525,640 doesn’t mean much either – especially if in increases in multiples of 10 or 1,000 every time you press refresh. Of course, passing all of these rudimentary tests doesn’t mean the site contains trustworthy content, only that it is worth further consideration.
Next, I look at the website’s address. For example, a site, www.Ihate(insert name here).com or variations thereof, is a sure tip off that the content has an agenda. Less obvious biases can be gleaned from the AboutUs page or ContactUs page; even the lack of such information gives one pause. Conversely, the website of a well-known or respected organization can be deemed credible. Links on the site may also offer insight. The expectation is that a credible site will only link to other like-minded credible sites and that a disingenuous site will link to anyone and everyone or to other disingenuous, agenda-laden sites. Lastly, I apply common sense and consider if the information seems reasonable, balanced, and responsible.
So, to evaluate a website’s value, I seek professional looking sites, without indications of bias, that present factual, balanced information. When a second such site independently confirms the same information, it is an added bonus.
I recently put all of this to the test. I went to Google and typed in two phrases, each one in quotes. Normally this would have given me a small number of matches, but given the subject matter, I was presented with 15,300 matches. (And once this article is posted on the Connections Magazine website, www.ConnectionsMagazine.com, there will be one more!) What were the two phrases? They were “I invented the Internet,” and “Al Gore.” It should surprise no one that Al Gore reportedly made this audacious claim. In fact, I can convince myself that I even heard the sound bite of such a statement. I have yet to visit all of the 2,280 sites, but of the credible ones I have gone to so far, none assert that Al actually said those words.
These sites advance a couple of theories as to what happened. One is that it was pure fabrication, a Republican ploy to discredit their opponent by repeatedly asserting that he impudently and arrogantly took credit for something he didn’t do, a claim that any reasonable person would immediately dismiss as both bodacious and ludicrous. That could be, but I favor one of their alternate explanations. Simply, they speculate that Al Gore did what every other politician has done. He started with a bill that he co-sponsored or voted for, generously assumed that this effort was the catalyst for some great benefit, and proudly trumpeted it as a visionary contribution to society and a tribute to his leadership. It is my opinion, that, in all likelihood, Al Gore voted for a bill that provided funds to advance Internet usage and that things were blown out of proportion when he promoted this fact.
Along these same lines of, “I invented the Internet” is the term, the “information superhighway.” Arguably, it was Al Gore who coined this phrase; unarguably he brought it into the mainstream consciousness and our modern lexicon. The information superhighway, it was postulated, would play an important part in society’s future. The concern was that access to the Internet or lack thereof, would ultimately result in a two-class society. Those with Internet access would have an unprecedented amount of information readily available to them and given that “knowledge is power,” the Internet would therefore empower them. Alternatively, those without Internet access would experience an information void, thereby lacking its associated power and placing them at a disadvantage. It was theorized that the Internet-less would, in fact, become second-class members of society.
Not only is the Internet important to individuals, it is even more critical for organizations. With the ubiquitousness and utility of the Internet, it is quickly becoming a business expectation, not an option. An organization without a website is increasingly viewed as second-rate, a non-player, one lacking in resources, vision, or leadership.
An often proclaimed, but erroneous requirement for websites is to keep changing content. This doesn’t mean, however, to do a one-time design and then ignore. At the very least, periodically remove outdated information, update material as appropriate, and add content useful to your target market. The basic goal of most websites should be that it will function as an on-line brochure and information packet.
Developing a website can be done rather easily by someone with a basic understanding of computers, time, and a desire to learn. Alternately, there are many options to have someone design a site for you. Carefully treat their selection as you would any other business decision. The criteria I use to evaluate a website’s credibility is a good checklist in developing yours. Also, when your domain name (that is, your Web address) is selected, make sure it is registered in your name; that gives you ownership and control over it. Lastly, once your site is working, visit it at least weekly to make sure that it remains functional.
Email is an even more expected and critical business tool that the Internet has given us. You need to have your own email address, as should all key employees – preferably every employee. This greatly aids in communication and facilitates organizational synergy. It also lets others know that your organization follows current business practices. Do not use the same email address for everyone in the call center. Not only can messages be read by the wrong person, but there is also the possibility that an important communication could be deleted by someone else. Having an email address is the first step, but it also needs to be periodically checked – at least once each business day, preferably more often. Just as no viable business would try to function without a telephone, so too, email is a given requirement to be taken seriously. In the same vein, no self-respecting person would fail to check his or her answering machine or voice mail for messages; failing to check email is no less crass.
Having an email address presumes that you have Internet access. Even today, some free (but limited) Internet access is still available. Barring that, low cost options exist for $10 to 15 dollars a month. For most organizations, once they experience the power of the Internet and its value, dialup access becomes inadequate and dedicated, high-speed access (DSL, cable modem, or T1) is pursued.
I continue to be amazed at the organizations who do not have a website and people who do not have email – as well as those who have email and don’t check it. Frankly, my opinion of such organizations is one of skepticism and my view of such people is disrespect. Don’t be one who falls by the wayside of the Internet revolution; join it today and avoid being classed as second rate.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2004]