Who Cares About Information Quality?

Who cares about reliable, up-to-date information? For best results, you should ask yourself this very important question before beginning your search.

Way back in the year 19{mumble}, when I was in graduate school working on my library science degree, one of the things I kept hearing in my online research courses was, “who cares?” No, we weren’t getting sassy — this was the professors’ reminder of one of the best ways to find validated, reliable, up-to-date information… by figuring out who cared passionately about whatever topic we were researching, and then contacting that person or organization directly.

This was way before the days of the web, so it usually meant a lot of research in a library, to find out who was the expert on the construction of freeway overpasses or the removal of paint from historic buildings, for example.

It’s a lot easier these days, of course. But I still surprise myself when I forget that simple question of “who cares?” A couple of examples:

I needed to find information on Acute Interstitial Pneumonia for a relative who had just been diagnosed with this disease. If you throw that phrase into Google, one of the first sites you get is from the Merck Manual — a bible of medical information for the hypochondriac and those of us who just want to know that the twinge we feel isn’t always fatal. But many of the other results are somewhat less authoritative or useful; in fact the next site was for interstitial pneumonia in cattle… not what I wanted at all!

Then I got smart and called a friend of mine who is a medical researcher, who suggested I consult the American Lung Association. That turned out to be an excellent source of information on interstitial pneumonia, and it was written in language that patients could understand.

Then a client asked me to identify the countries in which he should market a particular type of agricultural equipment. Sure, I could have started with a search in the market research report databases on Dialog.com or MarketResearch.com, but I decided to go directly to the US Department of Commerce, whose job it is to promote international trade and to help US companies create new markets overseas.

Sure enough, the STAT-USA database had a report specifically on the best markets for the agricultural equipment my client manufactures, along with contact information on the appropriate government officials, the key industry conferences he should exhibit at, and the leading agriculture publications in those countries.

These two research projects served as a reminder that the fastest way from question to answer is often not a search engine but an information tool — a broad-based directory such as the Open Directory Project or Librarians’ Index to the Internet, or even something as simple as searching a directory of trade and professional associations, such as the one maintained by the American Society of Association Executives.

Once you have found one or two good web resources, you can always expand your search by looking for other sites that link TO those sites. Use the link look-up technique described in my article, Web Link Look-Up.

So, try asking yourself, “who cares?” before you begin your next research project, and see what you turn up.

Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Washington, DC.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Watching Wi-Fi
Forbes Jun 17 2003 12:20PM GMT
29 nations target cross-border Internet scams
USA Today Jun 17 2003 6:12AM GMT
Sympatico and MSN.ca Web portals to merge
CTV.ca Jun 17 2003 5:23AM GMT
WSJ Online Debuts Interest-Based Targeting Technology
dmnews.com Jun 17 2003 5:21AM GMT
gone2africa.com Meet the dot.com millionaire backing African start-ups
BBC Jun 17 2003 3:37AM GMT
Lessons Learned From the Other Side of a Corporate Portal
uk.internet.com Jun 17 2003 1:56AM GMT
XML and Unicode: Mix with care
CNET Jun 16 2003 9:15PM GMT
European ‘news rights’ are all wrong
ZDNet Jun 16 2003 1:12PM GMT
BT joins forces with Yahoo
BBC Jun 16 2003 12:29PM GMT
Spam inquiry to focus on international laws
ZDNet Jun 16 2003 11:30AM GMT
Search engine pioneer Overture prepares for new chapter
SiliconValley.com Jun 16 2003 9:33AM GMT
Net Profiling Lures Advertisers
New York Times Jun 16 2003 3:30AM GMT
No Virtual Numbers for Yahoo’s CFO
Business Week Jun 16 2003 2:23AM GMT
Streaming Media Gets Down to Business
WebTalkGuys Radio Jun 14 2003 9:28AM GMT
powered by Moreover.com

Related reading

The word PREPARED is written on a blackboard with the UN crossed out. A hand is underlining it.
A hand holding a transparent piece of plastic or glass, with the Google logo superimposed onto it.

Simple Share Buttons