The USC Annenberg School ' s Center for the Digital Future has just released results of a nationwide survey in year four of an ambitious ten year project to monitor how the Internet is influencing all aspects of American life. A noteworthy finding was that users are at last acknowledging that not all online information is created equal.
For the second year in a row, the study found a decline in the number of users who believe that "most information on the Web is reliable and accurate." The figure is now down to 48.8%. The number of users who believe that "only about half the information on the Web is reliable and accurate" continues to grow, and now stands at 41.5%.
How do users determine quality? The answer in a word appears to be "brand." Users consistently rated the information quality of "established media" and government Web sites higher than Web sites of individuals (which I read to include small and unknown media sites as well). According to the study, 62.1% of users believe that established media Web sites are "mostly reliable and accurate" and 56.5% of users believe that government Web sites are "mostly reliable and accurate." The percentages rise even higher when the study looks only at users who've been using the Web for a number of years.
I've suggested for several years now that there would ultimately be a "flight to quality" as users began to realize how much inaccurate, outdated, incomplete and biased information exists the Web, and that this shift would primarily benefit those established publishers with a reputation for providing quality data. These data suggest that this important and very positive shift is already underway.
Detailed data from this survey can be found at: www.digitalcenter.org