Once you have an interesting-looking list of search results, you can do some initial detective work before even reading all the site’s information.
URL Detective work
Check the URLs – Dissecting a site’s url by shortening it back to the domain name (sort of like the “root” portion of a word) can help you find out about the people or organization behind the site. For example, this site has information about insects:
On closer inspection, the “domain name” is illinois.edu, a university site. Find the “domain name” by looking for the portion of the url with the DOT:
in this case, Illinois.edu
The portion before the domain name is called a “subdomain” and is a smaller but entirely separate area within the larger site. If you did not recognize the domain name, you could plug it into your address bar (preceded by www) to find out who is behind the overall domain:
To find out what the subdomain is, try shortening the url back to the first slash (/) after the domain name:
Sometimes you can find buried treasures by seeing what else is part of the same subdomain! Often, subdomains are specific projects or campuses of the larger organization.
The terms domain name and subdomain are not as important as knowing how to look for the “parent” organization. Then find specific information about who, within that organization, is responsible for the content on this site.
URLs which include a tilde "~" near the end are typically personal sites within an organization. These are not used as often as they once were, however. In a college or university site, urls with tildes or within specific /areas/ of the site may have been created by students or faculty. It’s wise to be sure whether you’re looking at a scholar’s work or a freshman group project. Sometimes the url will have slashes and words indicating specific areas of the site, such as:
When in doubt—especially if there is no “about” information, try truncating (chopping back) the url one slash at a time to find out more about who created it. Try this site:
The Top 20 Teacher Blogs (sounds great, right?)
Does the domain name tell you anything? What is this site trying to do, perhaps?
Be skeptical of user-generated sites with no “About this site” information about the creator. There are many great, free tools for making websites and wikis, such as Weebly and Wikispaces. When users create a site there, the url is often a subdomain of the main tool:
If you test these domain names by themselves, you will quickly discover that these are site-creation tools open to anyone:
This means you will need more detective work to find out about the site’s creator! If you can find a name, you can always “Google” it to find out more about the person. (Use quotes for full names). While some of these "labors of love" can contain highly credible information, others are apt to be less reliable. Review with extra care.
On to part 2...