Session 5

Research on the Internet


Environment, Technology, and Society

Exercise: Research on the Internet


You have begun to explore how users think about the tools they use, by reading Chapter 1 of The Design of Everyday Things and by doing some class exercises. You have read the article "'Of Course It's True; I Saw it on the Internet!' Critical Thinking in the Internet Era".


  1. To understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet as a resource for researchers.
  2. To consider how we can help research users of the Internet use it more effectively.


Work in teams of three or four people based on the number in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

  1. Discuss your impressions of the paper. Then, sumarize the problem that the paper addresses in three sentences or less.

  2. Discuss what, if anything, you know about how Internet search engines such as Google and Excite retrieve and organize their responses to queries. Summarize your collective knowledge. Whether you have any knowledge of how things actually work or not, propose two ways in which search engine companies can affect the quality of answers that users see.

  3. What, if anything, can we do to address the conclusions of the paper's authors: that research users of the Internet must learn that the Internet is an unmonitored medium of information, and that users must learn how to differentiate truthful sites from miselading ones? In particular, how could we at UNI ensure that all students graduate as effective users of the Internet?

At the End

  1. Your group submits a written report of your results from the three tasks. As always, your report should summarize any discussion that ensued and should answer any questions directly asked.
  2. Each group will present some of its conclusions.

Summary from Exercise

Problem: The Internet is an unmonitored source of information with a low barrier for entry. People must use extra care to distinguish legitimate information from misleading information and to corroborate information with other reputable sources.

Correctness versus verification. Was the authors' equal treatment of them reasonable?

Is it ever reasonable to trust a single source from the library? If you say yes, what makes the situation different from using the Internet? Perhaps the library, serving as an authenticated scholar's portal, can offer a higher degree of trust.

Search engines: Text-based techniques, not idea-based. Use of "number of links in" as an indicator of value. Use of page contents and other author-provided information for indexing. Selling "top billing" rights to advertisers.

Student vulnerability to advertising claims, government claims, propaganda, scams. Inability to distinguish similarity intent between, say, HGH site and Microsoft site.

This paper operates in a mode similar to Norman's: investigate the thinking, beliefs, and expectations of users in order to understand how well they use a tool. The authors present survey results that seem to capture the way users think about the Internet.

Addressing the problem: Is it feasible to create and use scholar's portals or other 'certified' or vetted site as an entry points? What about education? How? In what courses?

Interesting result on confidence level X quality of answer. Don't let your lack of confidence be the only factor in causing you to devalue your ability... (Women versus men in CS course of this sort...)

Students Summaries

Eugene Wallingford ==== ==== September 27, 2003