I hear someone being told everyday that the best place to find out about x, y or z is on the Internet, but how do you actually find what you are looking for and, most importantly, know that the information is accurate?
This is something that I face every day. I am constantly on the lookout for new information about the industry and whenever I hear of something relevant, I search for as much on that topic as I can find. I do use a couple of tools to make hearing about the information in the first place easier (such as subscribing to RSS feeds through Google Reader – more on this another day) but mostly it comes down to the same two problems:
- Finding the information in the first place
- Trusting the information that I find
Finding the information:
My first port of call is a Google search. The recent change in the layout of the Google Search Interface has helped a lot – I will often use the option of only looking at discussions as it helps to find out what the average Joe is talking about rather than the opinions of a company. However, Google is not perfect. You often cannot find exactly what you are looking for on specific topics and, if it is a breaking story, Google are unlikely to have indexed the relevant pages and comments yet.
In these instances I will turn to blogs and forums that I know from experience are good places to go – but how did I find these blogs etc in the first place? It all started back at the first step, the Google search. When I found some useful information on a site, I bookmarked it, compared what they said to what other people said and through a process of trial and error I gradually uncovered the most useful sites.
Social networking is also a fantastic way to learn due to the real time updates – put a search into Twitter for example and it will give you what everyone has said previously on that topic and what they are saying right now.
Trusting the information that I find
The saying ‘don’t believe everything that you read’ is an old one but it has never been as true as it is when using the Internet. There is no single place that you can go to and know for sure that all of the information is 100% accurate and unbiased.
You have to be clever in the way that you use the Internet to weed out the chaff. As mentioned above, build up some sources that you know are generally trustworthy but do not only use one of them – aggregate the information. For me, the sites that I trust and keep returning to are ones where there is reader participation in the form of comments. You can say whatever you want on a web page but when you have an option to leave comments you will quickly be found out if you are not being accurate. These comments are also a brilliant place to expand on your knowledge as you are getting the feedback from a number of people and each of them has something of value to add.
When looking at the social networks don’t assume the first comment you see is correct; read through a good selection (with tweets their maximum length is 140 characters so it doesn’t take long) and gauge the general consensus.
Even when you have been through all of the above, I’m sorry to have to inform you that you cannot just sit back. The Internet is still evolving at a phenomenal rate and there will always be another site that comes along that can help you and others that fall off. Keep your eyes open, look at where your trusted site is back linking to and most importantly remember that only a very small fraction of web pages are there with no thought to making money.
Everyone has their own way of looking up information on the Internet and not every query needs it to be highly accurate. When you know what you are looking for and where to look, the Internet is likely to be your most powerful learning tool. Just don’t forget the rule of ‘don’t believe everything you read’!