Who made this website?
Information is published online for all kinds of reasons.
Most online publishers want to share their knowledge and expertise, a point of view or important information. Writers, artists, historians and photographers want to share their creative work. Media companies are in the business of publishing news and opinion. Commercial companies want to promote and sell their products or services.
One way of identifying if the information is trustworthy is to figure out who has published it.
Things to look for
- An 'About' page, that tells you who made the website (and why)
- A way to contact the website owner (so it's not totally anonymous)
Test the following to see if you think the information is reliable:
- high-quality, up-to-date content
- familiar brands and names; eg newspapers or writers you know and trust
- easy navigation to help you find your way around the site
- links to other useful websites
- reasonably professional appearance, without spelling errors
- no inappropriate advertising or hard sell of products.
We can also ask ourselves: who is the website aimed at? Am I the right audience for this information? The answers to these questions can help explain what the website is for, and whether the information is relevant to you.
Every website has a unique address, which can sometimes tell you quite a lot. Ours, for example, is learning.slv.vic.gov.au – the learning website of State Library Victoria, which is a Victorian government agency.
Web addresses are different depending on where in the world the website is located and what kind of organisation it belongs to.
- companies, businesses and organisations can own an address ending in .com.au
- community groups will often have an address ending in .net.au or org.au
- government agency (including library) websites end in .gov.au
- university and school websites use .edu.au.
Most countries' web addresses follow similar patterns. In the US, addresses end in .com, .gov and .edu, while in the UK they end in co.uk, .gov.uk and edu.uk.
In Australia, websites ending with .gov.au or edu.au should contain reliable information as they are an official source. Websites operated by community groups often end in .org.au, and can be a great source of information on specific topics.
If you are looking for health information, for example, you can look for results in a search that might be from a hospital (org.au), a support group (net.au), medical researchers (edu.au) or a health department (gov.au). Your doctor might have a website that ends in com.au.
Blogs often include the name of the blogging platform or software, such as wordpress.com or blogspot.com.
Commercial websites (usually with URLs ending in .com or .com.au) might want to sell you something, and often that's exactly what you're looking for – a price for a product, an operating manual or opening hours.
Use Google to search for the words 'family history'. What do the different kinds of web addresses tell you?
Things to remember
- Try to find out who created the website
- Ask yourself if you're the target audience
Now let's look at identifying primary and secondary sources.