Basics of Assessment and Evaluation

The Research School has an extensive program on assessment and evaluation. We have picked out some of the basics we see as essential to assure the quality and accuracy of any on-line research.

Few safeguards exist to ensure internet information is accurate. Anyone can publish anything on the web. Moreover, it is often hard to determine a web page’s authorship. Even if a page is signed, qualifications of the author are seldom provided. Sponsorship is not always indicated, either.

Analysis of collected materials, to extract the information that matches the client’s needs, is key.

Collected materials are analyzed for:

  • Authority/Qualifications (does the person know what they are talking about)
  • Accuracy (consistency with other materials, validation, sources).
  • Currency (timely or dated).
  • Objectivity (from advocacy groups, balanced viewpoints, analysis of links, claims to speak for groups).
  • Credibility (properly identifies itself, citied by others, background record of web site and hosting service).
  • Relevancy (particularly applies to the Internet since not all Web pages containing the key words are relevant to the subject).
  • Coverage (does it completely cover the subject)
  • Appearance (does it appear to be professional and business-like)


Only after these areas have been examined is it possible to assess the material as useful for you or any client you have. Detailed looks at the various elements listed above will be posted in coming weeks.

Some Free and Low-Cost Spreadsheet Tools

Google Sheets

Google Sheets:

Google Sheets Templates:


Apache Open Office


Libre Office


Air Table (Note: Bills itself as a database rather than spreadsheet, accepts images etc).


For many, anonymization has definite advantages. For some open source information searchers anonymization is absolutely essential. It protects both the user and system identities and keeps the interests and the identity of the searcher confidential. Assess your risk at every site you enter to determine whether anonymization seems to be called for. Anonymize only when needed. Avoid mixing anonymous traffic with non-anonymous traffic and consider using different browsers for anonymous and non-anonymous traffic.

For most common searches, anonymization seems like overkill although hackers have inserted “bugs” on even the most innocuous and upstanding websites, allowing them to trace back to users’ computers. When accessing sites that may be unfriendly to you or a client, anonymity is essential. Occassionaly observers use the information they can glean from the IP address and subsequent hacking to gain confidential financial information that they can exploit and use to empty bank accounts into their own coffers. Personal information about the open source searcher, once accessed, can be used for any number of nefarious purposes, by any number of people, since personal information is often sold or passed around by the hacker community. Just as importantly, the operators of an unfriendly site—if they can identify someone who is accessing their web pages—may decide to present misinformation by creating bogus web pages with false information that the open source researcher is directed to, based on the IP address. The operators of unfriendly sites may also discontinue posting certain content that is of the most value, or deny service, to the open source researcher based on the IP address.

Most anonymization services—these can be found by looking up anonymization or cloaking on a web search engine—use a series of proxy servers that change the IP address as it goes through each server. That dramatically decreases the possibility the IP address can be traced back. Some anonymization services allow users to even choose where the fake address will appear to be from—a system that is good but must be understood and used carefully since the continual use of an IP address during what would be the early morning hours of the supposed location of a user could excite suspicion.

Anonymization has other drawbacks as well. The need to go through multiple anonymization servers that change the address slows the connection and data transfer speed. The administrator of the anonymization servers may also be in a position to intercept sensitive data.

Some well-known anonymizer resources include, VyperVPN, Express VPN, Hide My Ass! and Strong VPN.        

Other anonymization resources include TOR (aka The Onion Router) and JAP (Java Anon Proxy). Be careful when selecting anonymization services since some are believed to be created by miscreants to find people who can be hacked.

Low-tech techniques that avoid the need for anonymization include using Google caches (they are on the Google server) and archive sites such as The Wayback Machine.

Noteworthy Items

Facebook lost the initial round of a court suit that takes it to task for collecting and storing biometric data that comes from photographs placed on its site.


The Associated Press has a story on Digital Spring Cleaning – some thoughts on reducing digital clutter while defending against some hacking attempts.

For the Android cellphone user, it’s wise to be aware of a new piece of malware that does things that keep users awake at night.