It has been said that with the wealth of information, freely available, the Internet has the ability to make you smarter, faster, than any other medium on the planet.
Of course with an equal amount of mis-information, it also has the ability to make you dumber, faster, than any other medium on the planet.
So how do you decide which sources of information to trust and which sources to avoid?
It has long been a source of debate, whether or not, any information can be 100% reliable. There is, it is said, no such thing as absolute truth (is that an absolute truth?).
Really though, there is no point in driving yourself mad with such trivial philosophies. All you have to do is decide, in your own mind, where your level of skepticism begins and ends. And skepticism is important in this day and age. That isn't a negative viewpoint, it's just a realistic assessment of what you need to survive.
Imagine for a moment that you're looking for a solution that will send your weekly newsletter to your eagerly awaiting mailing list. You can choose from a myriad of different software, hardware, third-party solutions. Some free, some cheap, some expensive and some unreliable. A decision has to be made. Who's going to help you? Look at the options.
SPAM: Lots of unsolicited emails promise to have the definitive solution and at one time this might have been worth a look. Today, however, if a company is so discourteous that they ignore the generally accepted rules of spamming do you really want to do business with them?
WEBSITE: Ranked high on Google, plenty of glowing testimonials, even a 30 day money-back guarantee. But wait! Are those testimonials real or fictitious? Is there a clause that will prevent you from returning the product if you dislike it? Can you really believe anything you are being told?
The reality is, that many companies will say anything to make a sale. This is true both on the Internet and the High Street. Desire for profit can quickly deteriorate good intentions. I don't need to preach about this. You know it's true.
Accept this, then temper your paranoia by checking the facts. Legitimate companies exist on the Internet by the thousand. The ones worth buying from will happily talk to you on the phone and answer your questions in person. They will respond to your questions by email, probably on the same day. And, if they're really worth spending money on, they will let you personally contact previous customers so you can confirm that what they're saying is true.
Make the company work for the sale. If they can't be bothered to reply to your emails or turn the answering machine off, don't bother to give them your credit card number.
Verdict: Tread carefully
RECOMMENDATIONS: The product/service is recommended by a third party, perhaps in an ezine, or on a website. Sounds great? A genuine testimonial? But wait!
What is the recommender's motive?
Love for fellow man?
Appreciation of the product?
If you picked option number 3, you're probably right. Joint ventures and affiliate programmes have led to many a recommendation of a product/service that hasn't been evaluated or even used. There are exceptions but there's a good chance that the recommendation is linked to a commission.
This doesn't, by itself, mean the testimonial is bogus. It simply means, as previously stated, that you should use some skepticism.
Look for recommendations from newsletters or websites that have been around for some time. If they have a reputation to consider, they will (should?) think twice before promoting something they haven't fully investigated.
Verdict: Useful, be sure about the source
SEARCH ENGINES: Once you've found the product/service that sets you alight, look for negative feedback. Search for the product name alongside words like "hate" or "problem".
If lots of people have used this product and had problems, then at least few will likely have posted their experiences on a forum.
If no results appear, take this as a good sign and move on.
Verdict: Essential step?
FORUMS: If you're really having difficulty finding what you are looking for, forums could be the key.
Look around for about half a dozen forums that you like and have plenty of traffic. Then post a description of what you need on all of them. Check back frequently and see what comes up.
Forums are an excellent way to find uncensored information offered solely for its value. Generally speaking, what you see is what you get.
There are, of course, exceptions. Occasionally someone might recommend something, solely because they are affiliated in some way. But if the forum is busy enough, they probably won't get away with it.
Verdict: About as safe as you can hope to find?
Does the above sound obvious to you? Maybe it is, but every day hundreds or even thousands lose money on poor or useful products/services that they were convinced were perfect. If you doubt it, check through a few related forums.
If you run your own ezine/website/forum, ask yourself what you can do to help those who aren't as experienced. Your honesty will set you apart from the rest.
If all of this seems helpful, all well and good. Your final task is to apply the above information to this article and ask yourself, with just a touch of skepticism:
"Is it information or misinformation?"
Dylan Campbell has been quietly making a living on the Internet since 2000. He has a unique, and often controversial, view of the industry.
Dylan Campbell writes exclusively for The Nettle Ezine.