March 5, 2007

Regarding the accuracy of ready-reference answers –

I still have plenty of evidence in my own field of factual, ready-reference information that is incorrect, even on sites that are widely used as authoritative (even up to the level of OCLC and LOC). Are we dealing with a “tolerance” for errors – with 972 billion answers, is it OK if 0.01% of those are wrong? That’s a lot of wrong answers (but of course, way more right answers).

I think the propagation of (mis)information is a big concern. I’ve seen a lot of slow domination by certain sites that license content. It worries me because I feel that those purchasing the licenses don’t have the expertise that even those who are producing the content do – and I’m not convinced that those people are all that fastidious. So what can be done about the independence of “factual” answers?

And I should say that this is not an Internet-only problem in my field. Books and CDROMs can be and are problematic in terms of simple, ready-reference situations (in specialized areas). It’s very much dependent upon the level of scrutiny out there.

This gives me plenty of ideas on how to document my own work on the web with the intent to be viewed more favorably *by those who consider similar criteria*, but it also gives me the reality view that for many people such things don’t matter.

I was also reminded of the early days of the web when things like awards of quality were floating around. Having received a few of those myself, I tend to believe that they existed so that the awarders got links back from the awardees (thereby raising the page-rank of the awarders). Hmmmmm!

Michael Fitzgerald

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