Some 114 people responded to our recent survey asking for comments about the recent design of our sister website, the Disinfopedia. Here's what they had to say:
89.5% said they had used the Disinfopedia to look up information; 22.8% had added information to it themselves.
The response to the new design was mostly favorable, with respondents giving it an average rating of 3.9 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Things that people liked about the site included:
- "The sheer depth of information. You're not reiterating the same data that's floating around everywhere else, and you seem to have much higher standards for the credibility of your sources than most sites I've seen."
- "Ease of use."
- "Great collaboration."
- "Being able to click on any words I have questions about."
- "Its focus - think tanks, lobbying groups, etc."
- "I can not think of anything more democratic than a community based, online inventory of current issues."
Things that people liked least included:
- "Navigation links to the affiliate sites are a bit confusing."
- "A bit disorganised."
- "A web site that has self-respect should allow only real names, not 'user names.'"
- "Having to read the rubbish vandals enter."
- "No pictures of pretty girls." (I'm glad to see that some of our users have a sense of humor.)
- "Not enough entries on groups outside America."
- "More participants would smooth out some of the screechy rants and turn them into more objective attacks on biased people and things."
- "Stories not edited very well. I tend to shy away from a site that is sloppily written/edited."
- "The fact that good research is often subject to the whims of any bozo who ruins it by changing it to reflect some personal idea of his/hers."
- "The name 'Disinfopedia' smacks of frustration and despair, paranoia even."
With regard to the name, 61.4% of respondents said they thought we should keep "Disinfopedia," while 30.7% thought we should change it. Some of the proposed alternatives included "DemoWiki," "SpinWiki," "Politipedia," "Discloser" and "Throckmorton's dyspepsia" (another jokester). We appreciate the support for the current name, but based on discussions with a number of people in addition to those who responded to the survey, we have decided that we would like to change the name. In addition to the understandable reaction by some that "Disinfopedia" sounds paranoid, we feel that it is important to avoid pre-judging the groups whose profiles appear on our site. We're considering a possible new name that we may introduce as early as January. Of course, we'll make sure that existing "Disinfopedia" links continue to work as in the past.
We also asked users whether we should continue our system of allowing anyone to contribute to the site, without requiring them to register first. On this question, opinions were nearly evenly split, with 42.1% saying we should continue the current system, and 47.4% saying we should require people to register. We are in fact leaning toward requiring registration. We want to keep the site as open as possible, but we also want to make it easier to screen out casual vandals who insert profanity or commercial spam.
Finally, we asked if people thought we should add Google ads to our site. I was rather surprised by the response. 58.8% thought we should do it, and 31.6% were against it - a roughly 2-to-1 majority. Typical comments in support of the ads included:
- "Ads are fairly widespread on most sources of information on the internet. Google ads are at least unobtrusive."
- "I'd like to see your service continue and I recognize that you need funds with which to do that."
- "Making the information available is the most important issue. ... So do whatever it takes. Put nudes up and down the side bars if it will help pay for getting out the information." (Maybe this was the same guy who complained that we don't have pictures of pretty girls.)
Comments against the ads included:
- "While I'm sympathetic, becoming dependent on advertising could lead to editorial concessions in the name of keeping the site afloat."
- "There are other options, asking for donations, applying for some grants, etc. that I like better."
- "Ads contain disinformation. you can't provide a website that is critical of this, and then try to benefit from it. It is contradictory."
We've discussed these concerns quite a bit at CMD staff meetings. With regard to the question of whether advertising would lead to editorial concessions, we doubt that this is the case with Google ads. For one thing, Google ads are generated automatically by algorithms that look for ads relevant to keywords found on the page where they appear. This means that we wouldn't be dealing directly with advertisers, so they would have no way of exerting pressure. For another thing, the Disinfopedia's content is produced mostly by website users and not by CMD staff, which adds another layer of editorial independence.
Of course, some ads do contain disinformation. On the other hand, so does the Disinfopedia. It frequently quotes the claims made by organized propaganda campaigns. However, disinformation loses its power to deceive when it is publicly exposed and discussed. One of the reasons that we launched PR Watch ten years ago is that we are especially concerned about the public relations industry's use of hidden propaganda through the front groups and similar deceptive "third party" techniques that hide the identity of the message sponsor. Advertising is propaganda to be sure, but at least it isn't hidden propaganda. It comes labeled as advertising, and readers can judge for themselves whether they want to trust it. And if some Google ads link to deceptive information, our users can help expose the deceptive ads!
Of course, we wouldn't be considering advertising if we didn't need money to continue our work. We are already seeking grants and asking for donations. (If you want to donate now online, here's the link.)
During the past year, however, our work has grown substantially. Our staff has doubled, and use of our websites has increased enormously. One result of this growth is that Disinfopedia articles are now frequently listed among the top 5 or 10 results in online searches for information about groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. We think that Google ads provide a fairly unobtrusive way of covering some of those costs. We plan to begin experimenting with using them sometime soon, and after we've tried it for a while, we will conduct another survey and evaluate the results. We will discontinue the ads if they don't generate much revenue, or if they create other problems that interfere with the Center's ability to perform its mission with integrity.