Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Web Credibility: Titanic Disaster

Credibility is the determining factor for the believability of a source by the receiver. Whether it is a teacher, a parent, a news reporter, a print newspaper, or a website; credibility is the difference between someone sharing our attitudes, beliefs, and values - or - thinking that we (or the newspaper's editors) are crazy or at least misinformed. Dr. James McCroskey, a credible communication scholar, created a scale for source credibility that measures items such as honesty, morality, and ethics. These same measures have been (and should be) applied to teachers, doctors, news reporters, and website developers. Today we will look at one website: Titanic Disaster, in order to determine whether or not it is credible.

Chuck Anesi's Titanic website was completed in 1997 (no other dates are given). The title of the page is "Titanic Disaster: Official Casualty Figures" and the first line of text adds the phrase "and what they mean." The website is written for someone interested in obtaining data about historical events. The author's personal bias and sarcasm can be seen here: "The more primitive approach -- taken by most writers on this subject..." The site includes one external link that works, one internal link that works, and two links that do not work. The charts and data referred to by Anesi are provided and cited internally. The Wikipedia article, Passengers of the RMS Titanic, comes to similar conclusions but gives different reasons for their existence (and uses less sarcasm). Anesi's data and statistics are included in the Wikipedia page, Timeline of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, but could have been added there by Anesi himself.

The credentials of Chuck Anesi are not given on the website or the referring page, but his e-mail address is listed with the following description: "If it's to tell me that Martin Bormann really died in Nebraska or some such nonsense, please don't bother. Otherwise feel free to email me." After a quick google search I also found that he is listed on twitter as @anesi but has not posted anything in more than a year. This is a personal website with no known associations or sponsorships.

This site has some features that might have appeared professional and "tech-savvy" in 1997 but are sorely outdated now. The writing style is unprofessional, laced with misspellings, sarcasm and mockery of other writers in his field. The typeface is extremely small and difficult to read, and the images are not linked to anything else, such as source information. There is no navigation within the site; it is simply a long list of information. The source code is clean and typical of a website written at the time.

Knowing the credibility of the information we are reading will help us develop more accurate opinions of the world in which we live, and help stop the malicious lies spread almost everywhere we look today. Chuck Anesi's Titanic website meets a few of the criteria for credibility such as content and a lack of advertising or paid bias, but the outdated presentation and lack of information about the author reflect poorly on the website as an authority on this subject. If Mr. Anesi is such an authority he should update the website to current standards of html coding, and provide detailed background information verifying his credibility.

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