May 16, 2011
Many submitters noted that current methods of fact-checking or otherwise researching information’s provenance or authenticity online can be costly, time consuming, and inefficient. Two excellent ideas address this problem:
The first, from Chris Leeder at the University of Michigan School of Information:
[A good Idea for a Better Internet] is to create a powerful automated tool to help users evaluate the credibility and quality of online information sources. Multiple techniques and methods for evaluating online information quality are available currently, but they exist in isolation. Although some people may know how to do a WHOIS search, check authorship and sponsorship, and look for citations and latest update currency, users must conduct each task individually. It is time-consuming to multiple checks manually. Other computational techniques such content analysis, text summarization, sentiment analysis, text cohesion and reading level are rarely conducted outside academic or research domains and are unlikely to ever be used by the general public.
Combining many of these tools together into an easy-to-use browser plugin available to anyone would empower users to make better-informed judgments about the quality and credibility of information they find online. Implementing this idea would require programming and development knowledge to build an app that seamlessly integrates multiple functionalities into a simple, coherent and user-friendly tool.
The second, from Matt Burrows:
We need to provide people, throughout the world, with better tools to enhance their decision making processes as it impacts the public / political arena. This means enhancing people’s ability to access information, to analyze it and act upon it. Tools for this include … creating code which, in real time, allows the user to verify the accuracy of statements, claims, etc. made within an article or other piece of media…
The code [proposal is] summarized as follows:
The code would run in the background of an article or other media and allow the user to see, in real time, whether the statements made are accurate. This is in lieu of going to a separate website, as currently exists. Accuracy would be determined based on sources which act as a filter for determining credibility. As a practical matter, the code would need to be created and is, by itself, a significant challenge. The end result is that users become more informed and hopefully make better decisions.
Matt imagines his code-based proposal existing alongside a global network designed to support professional and non-professional journalists:
The network for journalists would be global and provide resources such as shared databases, ease of communication, and common license agreements (e.g., for licensing of stories, photos, and even partnerships for joint projects). Because transaction costs are minimized, there would be substantially more non-professional journalists and, for professional journalists, a greater support structure. These points would not change the Internet’s architecture, but would make it more efficient for its users and the public as a whole.
Practically, such a network would include old media newspapers, university journalism programs and bloggers. The key here is to create an effective network amongst all of these parties on a global basis (currently there are organizations which attempt to do this, but not on a global basis and which do not take advantage of the network effect).