Looking Chaos in the Eye:
Evaluating Websites


Head off to www.google.com and put in the word "assassination" and hit return. How many hits did you get? What? 1.8 million? Yikes! How the heck are we supposed to look at 1.8 million sites? How do we even know which ones are going to be useful? After all, they are published, right? That makes them credible and useful for our research, right?

Sheesh, that's is enough to make anyone decide to put away the computer and head to Steamboat, isn't it?

How do we know what makes up a credible website? That's a pretty good question. What are some of the things we look for when evaluating the credibility of non web-based research?

Authority?
As we've talked about in class, the ethos, or credibility, of the the author is immensely important.

Some of the credibility quewstions that we need to look at are:
Who wrote the piece? What's the author's experience in relation to the topic?
What is the authority or expertise of the individual or group that created this site? What are the reasons to assume that the author is an authority on the subject? With what organization is the author of the web site affiliated (i.e., NRA, Greenpeace, Pfizer, or the Department of State)? Is the extension (i.e., .com, .edu, .org, .net) relevant? Is there a particular bias with the author or organization? What is it? Is there any way to contact supply feedback?

Accuracy? Currency? Objectivity? Coverage?
Another item that we talked about in class, is logos, or information, of the text is pretty important too.

Some of the questions that we need to think about are:
What is the primary purpose of the site (e.g., commercial, information, persuasion, entertainment)? Is a date of publication provided? When was the web site last revised? How complete and accurate are the information and the links provided? Are excerpts from texts provided or are entire texts available on the site? Does the information contradict something you already know or have learned from another source? Is a bibliography of print or web resources included? Has the site been reviewed or ranked by an on-line reviewing agency?


Audience?
Organization?
A third item that we've talked about in class is pathos, or audience appeal, as a way of maintaining readership is of equal importance.

Some questions that we need to think about cover areas that range from redability to visual appeal:
Who is the expected audience? Are the content and the links clearly described and suitable for the expected audience?

Readability:
Is the text scannable? (people tend to scan text when reading online) Is the text brief and concise? Are meaningful topics chunked together under precise short titles? Are titles between 3-5 words long? Does the site limit the number of animations per page to one or under? Does the site avoid busy backgrounds? Is the important content at the top of the page? (Does the text follow basic rules of grammar, spelling, and composition? Does the content take advantage of the qualities of the web as a medium for communication and not simply just duplicate practices used for paper or other media?

Visuals:
Is the site conceptually exciting? Does it do more than can be done with print? Do the graphics and art serve a function or are they decorative? Are the graphics or multimedia included simply to show off, or do they add to the content of the page? Do the graphics correspond with the content of the site and the target audience? Do the colors of the web site make reading easy? Are the fonts readable? Does the background disrupt your reading? Are the color schemes, logos, or visuals meaningful to the organization or educational institution?

Links: How up-to-date are the links? Do all the links work? Are the most important and relevant words used as the linked text? Does the site use inline links? Are the links primarily external or internal? Does the site contain links to other resources? Does the site use rollovers as links, making it a mystery as to where the link will go?

Navigation:
Can you find your way around and easily locate a particular page from any other page? Do parts of it take too long to load? Is it open to everyone on the Internet, or do parts require fees? Is there a text alternative? Text-only? Can you turn off the graphics? Is there a site map to help orientate and direct readers to what they are looking for? Does the site have a consistent navigation scheme, button bar, or text jumplist that will help readers keep track of where they are? Does the site have a repeated image anchored to the same place on every page which returns the reader back to the homepage? Are the individual web pages concise, or do you have to scroll forever? Is the overall site and navigation designed with accessibility in mind?

Website Evaluation Assignment
First: Choose 5 different websites. 
Then: For each site you choose, first identify the type of web page: advocacy, business & marketing, informational, news, personal, or entertainment. On separate pages evaluate the sites according to the above criteria as well as according to any other criteria that we may have discussed in class or that you feel to be important.




Portions of this are adapted from [Re]Envisioning the Classroom in a Digital Age <http://oldwww.matrix.msu.edu/educonsult/usability.html#eval>
22 October 2003