Credibility Judgement and Meta-Content

Most of us know that there’s a lot of rubbish on the web – Content that is wrong for one reason or another, whether it’s just out of date, the author just didn’t understand or was deliberately trying to mislead. Most of us would also like to think that we can tell the difference between “good” and “bad” content and act accordingly. But is that really true? Can I really differentiate between reliable information about, say, a particular health problem? Even if some people can tell the difference all of the time, something that I’m highly doubtful of, it’s clear that some users can’t. In some cases, maybe this doesn’t matter too much. Health, or finance, though, are areas where relying on bad information could have serious repercussions.

So what’s this got to do with meta-content? I mentioned previously the similarities between the mass publication of bad meta-content that Web 2.0 brought about and the mass publication of bad content that was facilitated by the web itself. I’m most interested, though, in how meta-content could help individual users to make better judgments about the credibility of the information that they find online.

Social bookmarking, the ability to share, classify and comment on web links is a relatively common activity, albeit not something that your average web user takes part in. Services like Delicious and StumbleUpon help users to locate information that may be of relevance or interest, but they also allow users to write comments or reviews of the resources that they bookmark. In this way, social bookmarking services effectively allow users to annotate the resources that they find with their own opinions. My hypothesis is that these comments could help users to make more accurate credibility judgments about the information that they encounter online, even in domains where they have relatively little prior knowledge or experience.

Not all meta-content is created equal, though. If some meta-content can help people to make better credibility judgements then the challenge is how to encourage the meta-content that is helpful in this respect and minimise the amount of noise. To accomplish this, I propose the use of “nudge”-like techniques within the user interface to influence users as they create meta-content.

There are a few (subtly) different ways to describe what a nudge is, but the original definition, provided by Thaler & Sunstein in their influential 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” is:

“… any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.”

I’m currently running a study to test out whether nudges could be useful in this way, and to keep the experiment “clean” I won’t explain the nudges that I’ve designed yet. I’d love more people to take part, though. If you’ve any interest in health, fitness or well-being then head on over to to take part!

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