3 Tips for Conducting Research Online – Tip #2

In yesterday’s post I suggested that the problem with conducting research on the Internet is that it is difficult to find facts. Even Wikipedia uses “social opinion” to shape and shift information; although they also require corroborative evidence or support from encyclopedias and/or newspapers for much of their new content. Isn’t that ironic? I wonder what Wikipedia is going to do for corroboration when it puts encyclopedias and newspapers out of business.

But until then, a consumer researching a product or service online finds himself in the wild, wild west. So all one can really do is follow a few simple tips. I posted Tip #1 yesterday, which was determining the legitimacy of the source.

Tip #2 for Conducting Research Online: Look at the date of the information

We think of the Internet as an immediate, up-to-date source for everything from news to the latest photographs of Lady Gaga. As a result, it is easy to assume everything you read on the Internet is timely. Don’t be fooled. “Information” (or a better term would simply be “content”) posted on the Internet is available for a loooong time. You may be looking at information that is 3, 4, 5 or more years old. It may no longer be relevant or even accurate (if it ever was). Always look at the date the content was initially posted to make a better assessment of its relevancy to your search.

And speaking of being fooled, be extra cautious of information posted on April 1. “April Fool’s Day” has earned its namesake in the Internet age, with desperate marketers using the date as justification for posting false, fraudulent, and libelous claims. A competitor of Outskirts Press, for example, once distributed a press release on April Fool’s Day claiming that the Library of Congress needed to add another wing to accommodate the vast quantity of books being published by said competitor. Another company in our industry claimed in a press release dated April 1 to have reached a deal with J.K. Rowling for the ebook rights to Harry Potter. Were both these press releases clever? Of course.  But they muddy the waters in an already confusing industry and ultimately confuse the end customer/consumer/client even more.  I’ve seen evidence in social media comments and postings that suggest many people fail to realize these press releases are “jokes.” Of course, that’s good news for the original company or individual who posted the April Fool’s Day press releases to begin with; they want to mislead you.  That is their intent.

Separating fact from fiction is hard enough on the Internet. Companies don’t have to make it harder one day out of the year.

Tip # 3 next time…