Renaissance Online Magazine Column

MAY 26, 2003

KEVIN RIDOLFI

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KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and Web programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine.

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WAR OF THE WORDS
[ 1, 2, 3 ]

Enforcing Standards
Currently, there is no organization that serves as a watch-dog to the legitimacy of information. I wouldn't suggest censorship or anything along those lines, but there is no reason why the Web can't be organized and categorized more efficiently. Libraries employ a fairly standard and universal catalog system. Both books and periodicals utilize ISSN numbers to help catalog published work. The Web portion of the Internet needs to do the same.

The easiest method is through the enforcement of existing domain extensions (.com, .org etc). In the last few years there has actually been less enforcement of these extensions. Previously only non-profit organizations could register a .org domain, now anyone with the $35 registration fee can do so, which creates the misleading impression that corporate sites are non-profit. If the existing domain extensions return to an enforced, selective state, then we could use our search engines to search particular types of information and have that information be accurate and relevant according to our search parameters (e.g. you could restrict your search to just .net domains and know that you will only be getting Internet service providers in return).

To take this a step further, this enforcing body should create new domain extensions to further categorize types of information. For example .xxx could be used for adult sites and services. Anyone found promoting these services on a non .xxx domain would face fines and the loss of their domain (with their service-provider also being held accountable). Breaking all adult content into this one area allows easier parental control over content, eliminates pornography from simple Web searches and allows those who actually are looking for porn to still find it. The same can be done for personal, non-commercial Web sites by creating the extension of .mine (or something similar). In this case, when searching for legitimate information on a breed of cats, one need not worry about the first 10 results being personal home pages about little Sally's pet cat because the search engine could restrict the search to all non .mine domains. The categorizing possibilities could also stretch into legitimate publications (those that have an accepted ISSN number) using .pub and many other areas as well.

Finding a Needle in a Search Engine
Search engine reliability and usefulness, even in light of the wonderful technology developed by Google, is rapidly decreasing. It is becoming more and more difficult to find useful, accurate information through the Internet. The Internet was originally conceived as a method to distribute information to a mass audience (the prime mover being ARPAnet, a network of government and university computers). This still holds true, but unfortunately, the information that is being distributed is in large part fiction and myth. Annotation and citation are things of the past. Since anyone can now publish a Web site or start an e-mail chain letter without any inconvenience of perceived cost, time or the presence of an editorial body, misinformation is rampant. It is almost impossible to do legitimate research through the Internet because of this vast bank of unsubstantiated data and foundationless opinions.

Google, alone, reported 112 million searches per day for January 2003, according to Search Engine Watch. How many of those searches returned accurate and relevant results? As of March 2002, Google had indexed almost 1.5 billion Web documents as reported by Orbidex, a search engine optimization and marketing service. This figure isn't going to get any smaller. Given that enormous number of indexed pages, it is alarming that so many people are relying on such a questionable source for their information. Simply put, there is just too much chaff to wade through. The Internet started as a way to connect the minds of educators and government employees. A commendable goal, to be sure. We need to start holding our online content up to that same discriminating candle, ensuring the accuracy, importance and longevity of our culture's information.

[ CONTINUED: Low-Brow Usage and the Pornography Invasion ]

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