WOT the heck!

Having been sick in these past few days I’ve had plenty of time for pointless browsing (what can I say, while under normal circumstances I grumble at the fact that there are only twenty-four hours a day, being sick and feeling like my brain had been turned into molasses left me feeling that those twenty-four hours were way too many). Anyway, one of the things that caught my eye is the behavior of one of my browser’s add-ons: WOT (that would be Web of Trust).

It is an interesting concept, a rating system that is meant to help you identify dangerous and misleading sites, but in quite a few instances it was what was revealed by the ratings that I found to be the most telling aspect of it all… it was also there that I found myself wondering just how useful this thing happens to be in the real world.

I don’t know, maybe for a parent it would be of some use, but when it comes to the trustworthiness of the content I am quite capable of making up my own mind (in fact I have already made up my mind when it comes to most issues, and for the most part the chances that a site is going to get me to change my most fundamental convictions are pretty slim), and child safety too is a non-issue as far as I am concerned. The one area in which something such as WOT could actually be useful would be when it comes to privacy, viruses and other such problems that may not be immediately apparent, but those categories seem to move in tandem with everything else  (I get the feeling that all too often visitors who like/dislike a site give it a good/bad rating across the board).

The thing is that what this add-on seems to focus on is the nature of a site’s content, and oddly enough the add-on also reveals just how fuzzy some of these categories can be.

Sure, there are some sites that are clearly unreliable (creationism, young earth, climate change denial and the like may be entertaining, but they are most definitely not science), and there are some instances in which some sites are rightfully condemned as hate-speech, but at the same time what get to be described as hate-speech shows a lack of consistency that I find truly fascinating, especially if you are browsing in more than one language.

For instance, one million moms, a fountain of hatred under the guise of ‘protecting children’ that can also function as treasure trove of involuntary humor, is rated as either poor or unreliable across the board because most reviewers feel that it crosses the line into hate speech, while the far more virulent Radio Cristiandad, a fundamentalist Spanish language Christian site, is listed as reliable in each and every category.

In this particular case the fact that OMM is a well known English site, while Radio Cristiandad is a fringe site in Spanish can serve to explain the difference to a large extent, but the thing is that it is precisely when dealing with unknown sites that I could use something like WOT, but it is also when dealing with those sites that this particular add-on tends to fall down on the job. Simply put, the bigger the site, the more numerous the ratings and the greater the likelihood that rabid fans and detractors will cancel each other out (though even then the possibility of an unjustified piling on can’t be completely ruled out), but when it comes to small sites it is not uncommon to run into a situation in which the reviews posted by either fans and rabid detractors are  the only ones available.

Still, the one lesson I’ve taken from this whole thing is just how subjective the results provided by an add-on such as WOT happen to be, and that in the end I can agree or disagree with its ratings, but when it comes down to it I am still the one who is agreeing or disagreeing with them… and that in turn means that I am still on my own.

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