Magazine article Information Today

The Market for Virtue in the Virtual

Magazine article Information Today

The Market for Virtue in the Virtual

Article excerpt

We need a new set of strategies to help guarantee Web site quality

Life is good. Just when I thought all hope for an idea for this month's column had died, life, once again, provided me with copy.

While musing on a Sunday night about what this column (whose deadline was the next day) would contain, I missed the weekly telecast of Ebert and Roeper, those movie reviewers from Chicago's major dailies. Rather than stay up for the 2:25 a.m. rerun, I decided to go to their Web site--if only I could remember the name. In a very unprofessional approach to searching, instead of going to a directory or search engine, I tried to remember the name and when that failed, I made one up. But when I entered http://www.ebertroeper.com, instead of routing me to that site or providing me with an error message indicating the invalidity of that URL, the system shanghaied me into the Twilight Zone. Some outfit called Dotster started trying to sell me the "ebertroeper.biz" and "ebertroeper.info" domain names.

Now let's set aside the issue of whether those new domain name tags have any staying power, or how long it could take before the major search engines render them visible to the users of the world, or even whether or not ICANN's rulings have enough legal gravitas to rule the Web. Let's ignore all those issues. What gets me is the notion that my looking for a site indicates that I want to become that site. Talk about weird. This is like walking into an office and asking to speak with the manager and suddenly, out of the ceiling drops a hundred balloons and a ton of confetti, the room fills with party hats and smiling faces and an amplified voice booms out, "Speak to the manager? You are the manager. Yes, you, you, you have become the manager for the day. And, for a mere $29.95 (not including shipping and handling), you can turn this manager's job into a gold mine of information and a life of e-commerce ease for you and your family."

Where's the logic behind this kind of hysterical marketing? Ipso facto, if I'm looking for Ebert and Roeper or any other third party, one should logically assume that I seek something from them that I presently lack. So why would this needy state lead anyone to think that I want to pass myself off as being Ebert and Roeper? If I don't even know their URL, how could I ever hope to perpetuate the hoax of claiming their identities?

This kind of thing makes one long for the halcyon days of simple, straightforward error messages. "Wrong number." "No such person at this address." "404." "Try something else, stupid." If I had my druthers, I would have preferred the system to default to the Yahoo! directory, which is usually my first choice when it comes to finding sites that I feel pretty confident exist somewhere, but whose URLs I don't know.

Before I get a nosebleed by taking the moral high ground here, I should confess another failing. I didn't really try http://www.ebertroeper.com first. I tried http://www.siskelebert.com. Nor, keeping faith with my commitment to total honesty, can I claim that sentiment or nostalgia led me to that empty hole in the Web. Instead I forgot and just reverted to the names I remembered best from years gone by. This brings up a new topic, but one I believe will have more and more importance in the future.

Thwarting Web Opportunists

The dangers of sloppy searching and minimal information literacy continue to grow in this end-user world. As the Web becomes a mass medium, its universality keeps increasing the number of people who have little or no critical background for identifying misinformation. Meanwhile, the technical sophistication of the criminally minded continues to increase. And the situation is scheduled to get a lot worse as the baby-boomer generation, the largest population curve and the second-fastest-growing Internet user community, enters old age. We can expect to see amass of people coming to rely on the Internet more and more as they get older and turning to online shopping and online banking and all types of online services to simplify their lives. …

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