Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Blogs in Society

With any new program, design, or institution comes along the risk for potential problems that may alter or destroy the intended use or outcome. Aaron Barlow (2008) discusses several factors that have led to much criticism of the blogging world, and the possible perils that threaten this community.

The number of blogs continues to grow exponentially each year with little doubt that there will be a leveling off in the near future. One of the reasons for this increase is the availability and simplicity of a basic user to be able to create their own blog and make entries as they desire. With this ability for anybody who can access the Web to create an online journal about any topics imaginable, it is impossible for gatekeepers to monitor all of the information being posted into the online world. A potential problem that may arise from this is the ability for people to differentiate between real of fictitious information, especially those users who are naïve.

A few other points that Barlow examines is authors’ anonymity. It is now becoming more common that bloggers use real names despite some potential dangers that can follow. Another aspect that is looked at is the content of the blogs. Plagiarism is often intertwiningly seen as the stealing of others words or ideas, but can become very complicated in separating the latter from the former.

In my personal experience with blogs, I have become very self aware with what I write. The sense of knowing that any user with access to the web can sign on and read my work makes me feel personally responsible and more aware of my posts. For my Com 430Z class, our professor told us that we would be graded on the content of our blog, and our names would be attached to our work. At first uncomfortable about having my name open to the public, I came to my own conclusion that assignments I do in future work will always have my name attached to it. This will be beneficial for the fact that reputations may be at stake, and thus how important it will be to state clear and accurate information.

Barlow, Aaron. Blogging America. (2008). The Blogs in Society (Chapter 2).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Facebook has become one of the most highly regarded and oft used social networking sites on the Web. Facebook exemplifies new Web 2.0 technology by allowing users to interact amongst each other from any computer across the world. With the beginning of each new ground breaking company comes a point where users will look to explore the capabilities and features of the new application, but will also investigate the negatives or potential problems that may occur when signing up and taking part in the online community. In my research on the starting up, the background, and the potential future of Facebook as a premier social network, I have decided to use popular search engines to explore and find information and opinions regarding to the topic. A variety of keywords were put into three different search engines, which include Yahoo!, Google, and Dogpile. I then chose ten different sources and explained whether or not they were credible to use in future research on the project. From my search, I found that only X out of the ten websites fit the criteria of being credible sources to use to put into a research projects.

For my evaluation of criteria, I took into account several of the same requirements that Bonnie Tensen discusses in her article about evaluating a website. According to Tensen (2004), she focuses on the purpose of the website, where it came from, the intended audience, appearance, and its relevancy to others (p. 80-83)

The first search engine I used was Yahoo!, using keywords and phrases such as ‘What is Facebook?’, social network, and online communities. One of the first websites on the front page linked me to a Squidoo article describing what Facebook is and its history. My problems with this article, although the information seemed accurate, dealt with the layout of the page. It reminded me of a blog-style format, with the author being a random user contributing to this web engine. The second article on the Yahoo! front page I selected was off of the website Helium. With regards to this article, the slogan at the top of the page was the main reason I found this source not credible. “Learn What You Need, Share What You Know” seems to skew the facts that you are looking for on a subject, and instead you are receiving other users’ opinions. A third result I looked at was a short, brief definition of what Facebook is. Webopedia, although brief, gave us a formal definition that could explain to first time users what exactly a social network is and how Facebook fits that profile. This is the only site of the three off of Yahoo! that has presented unbiased and non subjective information.

The next search engine I decided to look for results on was Google. Surprisingly, two of the first three website mentioned were identical to the search results listed for Yahoo! The first result I looked at was Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a reputation that it is not a credible source for research, rather it is just an online “encyclopedia” composed and maintained by the user. It seemed Wikipedia gave a rather in depth, and unbiased view of what Facebook is, the history, and how people interact on the site. In conclusion, I posed that Wikipedia could not be a credible site itself, but the hyperlinks provided within the text can be used for further investigation of information. The next site I looked at was an article that dealt with issues of Facebook. I found this article the most disturbing of my search and the least trustworthy. My first problem with the article is the advertisements that are based strictly towards online marketing. Facebook must not have been in collaboration with this site because the article bashes its privacy features as well as uses biased phrases that seem to collaborate against using it. My last source I found on Google was an article written at the University of Oregon State. My first reaction after reading the article was that it must be a good article to be posted on the schools website and available to all users. As I read through the article, I noticed that first, the author of the page is anonymous which is a cause for concern; and secondly, none of the information contained any citations to outsiders work. Both of these reasons make this site hard to use as a source.

The next search engine I explored for information was Dogpile. The first article I came across linked straight to Facebook itself, revealing information directly from the main source that is being searched. This was a user interactive page that allowed people to gain an understanding of the technology and the features it offers. I would trust the information on this page, and use/site facts that are offered. The second webpage I looked at was from a site called Mashable. I’ve never heard of this site before, but it appeared on each of the three search engines top results. After viewing the article, the layout of the page is a cause for concern. Half of the screen is text about Facebook, and directly split is columns full of advertisements. These advertisements include everything from college promotions to the signing of for other social networks. This was rather disturbing and calls into wonder the accuracy and biased within the article.

Lastly, I went to the University of Albany’s library website to search for journal articles. The first article I found when searching for Facebook was an article published in the Atlantic Monthly titled “About Facebook”. Michael Hirschen (2007) accounts an overview of the history of Facebook and its potential future advancements that may occur in the future. A second article I found that was relevant was titled “Emergency: 2.0 is coming to a website near you.” This article written by Jason Palmer (2008) was published in New Science magazine and explains the potentials of 2.0 technologies and how Facebook uses these features. Both of these articles I deem credible because they were published in highly regarded magazines without a bias for or against Facebook.

In conclusion, I found that only four out of the ten sources that I viewed were deemed credible by the standards of Tensens and my personal evaluation of the criteria of articles. Two of the credible sources came from scholarly articles that were published in a magazine, resulting in search engines being reliable about a quarter of the time.

Tensen, Bonnie L. (2004). Research strategies for a digital age (chapter 5). Boston: Wadsworth.

Hirschen, Michael. (October 2007). About Facebook. Atlantic Monthly, p148-155.

Palmer, Jason. (2008). Emergency: 2.0 is coming to a website near you. New Scientist, Vol. 198, p24-25.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Navigating Links

Eszter Hargittai (2008) examines the impact that Internet links has on users, and the behind the scenes make up of how links are presented on web pages and with regards to search engines. Hyperlinking has become an essential part of the Internet and has been a main determinant of its success today. On every web page, this point and click method allows users to easily navigate from page to page or site to site. What many users are unaware of is how these links are structured and the potential dangers and misconceptions that can be found behind these links.

Search engines serve as a good example to view the differences of how links are sorted. One way is through financing, or paying engines to display you link first. This “bidding” method can also be found on web pages, whether it be on side scrolls or within the text. According to Hargittai, a second type of method search engines use are the amount of “links pointing to you (web page) and especially having ones from popular, established and well-regarded sites” (p. 92). Search engines such as Google will list sites based on the credibility it has with relations to respected sites.

The last theory Hargittai examines is the knowledge of users who access the Internet daily. It was surprising to view how little of a percentage of everyday users, especially college students, have little knowledge of how search engines rank sites and the manipulations that often occur when trying to retrieve credible information.

I have had a lot of experience with using search engines, using them almost daily. I have found that the relevant information I search for has become easier to obtain within the first page or two of search engines.

Previously, I would often experience clicking on links that didn’t pertain to what I was searching for, and being bombarded by pop ups and porn site offers more often than not. The methods of measuring the credibility of websites by how they are linked to others have made the use of search engines easier.

Hargittai, Eszter. (2008). The role of expertise in navigating links of influence. In Joseph Turow and Lokman Tsui (Eds.), The hyperlinked society: Questioning connections in the digital age (pp. 85-103). Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.