RealTime IT News

Web Credibility Project Planned

Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of "Consumer Reports" magazine, is planning a project to report on the credibility of Web sites, including e-commerce operations.

The idea, CU said, is to "establish, promote and win adherence for core standards to help ensure the credibility of information on the Internet."

The Web Credibility Project is supported by three-year grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and a one-year grant from the Open Society Institute.

The project also plans to name an advisory board from members of the online media and e-commerce communities; work with groups dedicated to similar goals, such as the Online News Association, Sigma Delta Chi/Society of Professional Journalists and others; provide public education on what makes a Web site credible or not credible; and give out annual awards recognizing the most and the least credible sites on the Web.

Beau Brendler, former editorial director of ABCNEWS.com and one of its founders, was named director of the project.

The project will also:

  • -- Examine broad trends and underlying business models on the Web as well as specific information practices on health, finance, travel, consumer shopping and journalism sites. The findings will be made broadly available to the news media
  • -- Develop effective standards and best practices for credible information and information disclosure on the Web, and work with other organizations to promote them and encourage Web publishers to adopt them.
  • -- Educate consumers about how to evaluate the information practices of Web sites, and ensure the information they obtain is reliable and trustworthy. ConsumerReports.org will evaluate the disclosure policies and credibility of information from selected Web sites, and report the findings through its e-Ratings

The Consumers Union Web Credibility Project plans to launch a Web site to further these goals later this year.

"We are just beginning research projects," Brendler told InternetNews.com in an e-mail exchange. "We'll have four in all this year, ranging from topics to the ethics and credibility of search engines, to what "credibility" actually means to readers and consumers on the Web and how important it is to them, and how many Web sites are answering to those concerns (or not), and in what ways."

Interestingly, Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab already has something of a credibility project going, also called the Web Credibility Project. The site, which has a slightly different aim, seeks to "understand what leads people to believe what they find on the Web."

The project includes efforts to perform quantitative research on Web credibility, collect all public information on Web credibility, act as a clearinghouse for this information, facilitate research and discussion about Web credibility and help designers create credible Web sites. Several research papers are already available on the site in PDF format.