Mar 25, 2012

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The goal is to make judgments about website information based upon what the URL tells you. Here are three guiding questions that can help.

1. Do you recognize the domain name?

The domain name is found after the http:// and www. to the first forward slash /. For example in the URL, is the domain name.

A domain name can sometimes provide clues about the quality of information of a site or tell you what a site is about.


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2.  What is the extension in the domain name?

.com and .net are examples of extensions. Extensions are an important part of domain names. You probably know quite a few already. Extensions are intended to show the type of establishment that owns and publishes the domain. Here is a list to look for:


.edu       Educational organization (most US universities)
.k12       US school site (not all US schools use this)
.ac         Academic institution (outside of US)
.sch        School site (some schools outside of the US use this)
.com       Company (usually .co in the UK)
.org        Any organization
.gov       Government agency
.net        Network
.mil        Military institution

New extensions to look for are .biz, .name, .pro, .info. All are used for commercial purposes.

Extensions can also include country codes, such as .uk, .ca, .za, etc. For a complete list refer to:

Some extensions may provide more reliable information than others, but there are no guarantees. Ones that may be more reliable are .edu, .gov, .k12. Ones to watch out for are .com, .org, .net. These domains can be purchased by anybody. This is not to say that sites with these extensions can never be trusted, but it is good to know whether you are on a commercial or special interest-type site if you are trying to access academic-type information.

3. Are you on a personal page?

You may or may not recognize the domain name or extension of a URL. Keep reading past the first forward slash / for more clues. If you are on a personal page the information you are reading may or may not be trustworthy.

A personal page is a website created by an individual. The website may contain useful information, links to important resources and helpful facts, but sometimes these pages offer highly biased opinions.

The presence of a name in the URL such as jdoe and a tilde ~ or % or the word users or people or members frequently means you are on a personal website.

Even if a site has the extension, .edu, you still need to keep a look out for personal pages. Case in point is this website previously available and published by a professor at Northwestern University:

This site is a Holocaust Revisionist site that argues that the Holocaust did not take place. Although this site contains a domain name we should be able to trust, the tilde ~ followed by someone’s name, abutz tell us that this is a personal posting and not an official Northwestern page.

**Today, Professor Butz’s site, describing the holocaust as an historic myth is no longer available at the original address. In fact, when you type in the address a screen from Northwestern appears that says the site is no longer available. The message is only accurate in part. The site is no longer available at the original address but it is available if you know how to research the history of a website with a special tool called the Wayback Machine. (see section VI)

To use Professor Butz’s site, you will be directed to an archived address of the original site:

Notice the second half of this URL. You’ll see that this second half shows the actual former address of the site.**


  1. I have learned a lot with this information.
    Thank you very much.

  2. I learned something new! I assumed there was indeed a way to differentiate from personal and professional but was unaware as to what the specifics were.

  3. Good info. I had no idea what signs to look for that made something an individual’s page. The address can be misleading.

    • I agree with you , there was a lot of good information and I also didn’t understand how to tell the differences.

  4. I did not know the difference between personal and professional sights. Thanks for info.

    • I’ve learned enough to warn me off of suspicious web sites from this information.

  5. I knew some of this, but many things I did not know.

  6. I try to explain the differences and meanings of different web addresses and love how helpful this is for my class.

  7. I learned more about personal and professional pages.

  8. Something I have known but needed a little review!!

  9. Good reminder about personal information on a “trustworthy” site! A lot of students see wikipedia as the one and only source of information in the world, it is definitely something to talk about.

  10. I have learned how to understand the codes for the webs I feel very comfortable to know their meanings

  11. Good information. I learned things to look for
    in the web address when determning if the site can
    be trusted or not.

  12. I knew some of this but not all. It’s a good source of information to share with our students.

  13. I found the list of common extensions helpful.

  14. Good to know when looking up research

  15. I knew some of this, but did not know the difference in personal and professional websites… Great information!

  16. Very informative! I didn’t know about the tilde.

  17. Good information. I did not know any of this.

  18. Practical article – Just to add my thoughts , you require a a form , my family found a blank form here

  19. this is top class info that really helped me learn something about website differentiation

  20. very informative … every teacher must share in the class with all student groups as well

  21. These tips are clear and concise and it is super important for teachers to convey to students the importance of reliable sources. Learning to investigate how to investigate the source independently will help them take ownership and fully understand the reason for finding reliable information.

  22. Very helpful information which I will use often in the future when trying to identify the different types of websites I will using for specific purposes

  23. Some things i didnt know, thank you.

  24. Thanks,very helpful

  25. You might replace some of the http with https. I met Alan in San Francisco in the mid 1990s when he consulted at School of the Arts. What a great educational resource. He provided one of the most talented teachers there with the incentive to leave classroom teaching and go into consulting.


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