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How to evaluate a website

Let the buyer beware! Learn how to be a savvy consumer of information and products available online.

By Kristin Stanberry

As a parent of a child with learning problems, where do you seek information and advice? If you're reading this article online, you'd probably say the Internet is a key resource. Through the Internet, one can access hundreds of websites offering information on child health and development, education, and special needs. You can also shop for books, toys, and educational products.

While the Internet is a rich source of information, it isn't well regulated. It's critical that you know how to determine if a site is credible, trustworthy, and appropriate for your needs. This is especially true when it comes to information and services that involve your child. Let's take a step-by-step approach to evaluating a website you visit for the first time.

What's In a Name?

You probably wouldn't buy a book without knowing something about the author who wrote it or the institution that published it. Likewise, when you review a website, you'll want to know something about the people and organization behind it.

Every website has a unique domain name consisting of the main identifier (such as "NCLD" in NCLD.org), followed by a 3-letter suffix (such as ".org"). The suffix tells you something about the website and its sponsor. Some of the most common suffixes include:

.edu - educational institutions
These sites often sponsor universities and research institutes and post content related to their research focus. If a faculty member's name appears in the URL, it may mean the university sponsors this as a personal page for a professor but doesn't necessarily endorse the content posted.

.gov - government agencies (federal)
These sites usually present factual information and have built-in checks and balances to ensure the information posted is accurate.

Unfortunately, the assignment of the certain suffixes isn't well-regulated, so a suffix may not accurately reflect the nature of a website. This uncertainty underscores the need to evaluate each site carefully. Unregulated suffixes include:

.org - organizations (service-oriented, nonprofit)
Be sure to read the organization's mission statement to understand its underlying values which may influence the content. The fact the group is nonprofit doesn't automatically mean the content it posts is accurate.

.com - commercial business
These sites promote and sell products. Such a site may post information as public service as long as it doesn't conflict with any of the products being promoted. This can skew the information presented, so that you may not get a complete, balanced view. Some commercial companies present themselves as nonprofits by using the .org suffix.

.net - network organizations
It's hard to tell much about organizations that sponsor these sites. Such a site might be sponsored by a network provider, a commercial organization, or even a nonprofit group.

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.

 

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/15/2010:
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