A website evaluation puzzle

Ahh – the conundrums of the internet….

My students are always finding “interesting” websites to include in their research papers. Where would you put this source on the evaluation continuum, ranging in reliability from an outright hoax such as Clones R Us to often well accepted collaborative sites such as Wikipedia, and on to more universally accepted websites such as National Geographic, PBS etc.?

William Shakespeare


The site is apparently a collaborative website. (“All material on this site is under constant revision. Essays continue to be donated by students and other authors which become property of hyperhistory.net….. )

The “author” is named as “Rit Nostromo” (“In order to reflect the collective authorship … the pseudonym of “Rit Nosotro” has been devised. (Writ is an archaic past tense of “written” and Nosotros is the plural pronoun for “us” in Spanish.) The authorship is “written by us”.)

After a lot of searching around, I finally determined that this is an online course for students. It is unclear what level of students. It also is unclear which articles are written by students and which ones might be other authors.


Is there any validity to this information? Wikipedia has gained a measure of acceptance, at least as a starting point with about the same validity of a general encyclopedia. When/how does a “collaborative” work gain acceptance as a reliable source? When is the magic “tipping point”?

If we accept Wikipedia as a valid source, what concrete criteria can we give students so they can evaluate other collaborative sites?

The site itself says it is accepting articles written by students. What kind of students? Middle School? High School? College? Graduate School? Again – Wikipedia articles are surely written by students…

Who exactly is “vetting” these essays?


The site is compiled from a distinct point of view. (Hyperlinked World History In Biblical Perspective) http://www.hyperhistory.net

Obviously MANY sites have a point of view – the NRA; The Brady Campaign; Birthright; Planned Parenthood. However, things get even more interesting when you get to this page which seems to point to an ongoing dispute with Muslims: http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/mast/faq.htm#whoisinstructor

If I should accept the source as valid – is it accurate to use the pseudonym as the author of the page/site as part of the citation as per the site’s example?

Nosotro, Rit. How to cite material from hyperhistory.net. 27 Oct. 2003. <www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/mast/citation.htm> (Date of access)


Comments from other sources are as follows:

This site is blocked by the DOE of NYC:
Reason: The Websense category “Malicious Web Sites” is filtered.

5 thoughts on “A website evaluation puzzle

  1. Hi, Jacquie, I wouldn’t accept this as an authoritative source for a research paper. I haven’t looked at the site, but based on its nature as a class product, that wouldn’t fit in my idea of an accepted category of sources. Does it have footnote – not that I would change my mind! I think wikipedia is acceptable with several caveats – doctors I know don’t find it correct in all important details – and wikipedia should never be the only source (because you can’t guarantee that a later reader of your research paper would see the same thing you saw on wikipedia).
    For an opinion paper, I MIGHT accept this source, but it still doesn’t sound high-quality,
    good luck,
    Melissa Techman, mtechman at k12albemarle.org

  2. When I was in my previous job as a junior high librarian, I said to students, “I want only the best for you, and you should want only the best for yourselves. This should include information. Unless you believe this is the BEST information you can find on your topic, don’t waste your time with it.” To that end I would tell students that the source you describe is NOT the best they can find and suggest other options. I am not on a vendetta against collaborative sites–I have come to realize that there are times when Wikipedia IS the best resource. But this site does not rise to that standard. The kids can do better, quite easily.

  3. Ultimately I told the student no on this particular site. The more I looked, the more I saw deficiencies. It just got me thinking about the collaborative sites that are jumping up all over the place. It will be a great example for teachers in a workshop. I love to find sites like these that pop up early in a student’s web search so that teachers can see how essential it is to evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

    I have a quick and dirty checklist that works pretty well for the kids. It is very easy to use – kids just have to circle a “grade” for each criteria. Anything that scores fewer than 16 points out of 20 is considered “unacceptable” Sounds harsh – but I tell the kids there is too much good material out there to waste time on a site that doesn’t clearly post its credentials. If they take the time to use the evaluation – this site would soon be eliminated. The form is “rigged” so that if either the sponsoring organization or the author of the site have no viable credentials the page “fails” the rubric.

  4. I don’t accept Wikipedia as a starting point. Why? Because why start there when you can “start” with another more reputable online encyclopedia like Britannica or the info at lii.org etc. If you have to double check an encyclopedia with another encyclopedia what is the point. I would hold the same beliefs for what you are asking here. There is SO much info available. Why not use something else and use these kinds of site for recreational information seeking

  5. Ultimately, the hyperhistory site is worthless. However – I still think that Wikipedia is a useful source. For MANY topics – there are no other encyclopedias that cover the topic. Researchers should never depend wholly on a general encyclopedia of any sort, and even traditional sources have discrepencies in information that need to be checked and cross-checked, using more detailed reference sources. Some studies – see Wired.com -indicate that Britannica and Wikipedia have a very similar error rate. And for our 9th grade research paper on young adult authors, wikipedia is often the only encyclopedia that provides any information. An encylopedia (traditional or wiki-based) is a place to start. A place to get a very general overview of a topic and perhaps some leads to follow, key words/phrase to pursue etc. For more detailed and better quality information – students need to use other resources, books, reference books, journals, web sites and more.

    As internet source mature, I hope more time will be spent on improving the quality of information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *