Web of Trust and the WOT Project

Web of Trust (WOT) is a crowdsourced ratings system that rates the safety and reliability of web sites. These ratings are generated by users who visit the sites. They can be based on security concerns, but they are mostly based on ratings from individuals who either like or dislike the content. WOT has been integrated into Facebook so that when Facebook users click on a link to a site with a poor WOT reputation, they are warned the site may be unreliable. This has a great potential to influence the traffic to a web site.

WOT can be both useful and problematic for skeptics. It is useful for us to be able to rate and comment on sites that offer unreliable, unscientific information on alternative medicine, for example. However, it also provides an opportunity for those who don’t like our message to rate our sites negatively, which can discourage those seeking information from coming to them.

Tim Farley, of the site What’s the Harm? and Erik Davis of Skeptic North have discussed the potential positive and negative effects of WOT on the ability of skeptics to educate the public, and Erik has created the WOT Project, an effort to identify reliable skeptical web sites and encourage skeptics to rate them positively so that their information will be more readily available.

This project is currently of particular interest to me since after reading about it I discovered that the SkeptVet and SkeptVet Blog have poor WOT reputations. Partly this stems from a hacking issue which I only became aware of several months ago when my host notified me that my site had been cleaned of some malware and that I had to reset all of my passwords. The blacklisting site that originally flagged my domain has since removed it’s warning.

But I also have had a small number of ratings by individuals (18) which are all negative. I suspect this is the work of CAM proponents angered by the content of my posts. So as well as encouraging everyone to participate in the WOT Project in general, I would like to ask readers who believe the content here is useful to got to the SkeptVet WOT profile and provide a positive rating and comment. Hopefully, this will help prevent those who see the site when searching for information about alternative veterinary medicine from being warned away from it by WOT.

Thanks!

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13 Responses to Web of Trust and the WOT Project

  1. art malernee dvm says:

    I wonder if the hackers are some of the 18 people who gave you negative reviews.
    art malernee dvm

  2. Leo Saumure says:

    I remember a week ago, I got the WOT warning when I read one of your articles. I immediately remember listening to a podcast with Tim Farley discussing these types of incidents. Rest assured, I went online and gave a good review.

    Cheers.

  3. skeptvet says:

    Thanks, I appreciate the support!

  4. Meg m says:

    The integrity of this website is substantiated by hard facts and thoughtful essays…a site to trust!

  5. skeptvet says:

    Thanks everybody for the positive ratings and the supportive comments! The site reputation has gone from Very Poor (based on 18 ratings) to Unsatisfactory (based on 45 ratings). Odd that half again as many positive ratings as negative ones still only moves the reputation to the middle of the range, but I think at least that should prevent the automatic warning when someone tries to navigate to the site via Facebook.

  6. v.t. says:

    Skeptvet, pardon my ignorance, but I really don’t see why you and other skeptics are concerned about the WOT. Just on first glance, it appears it is not designed for CONTENT, but based on users/readers simply “rating”, but how much more input on such ratings is required? Reading WOT’s faqs also makes me wonder, they seem geared more to alerting to those sites with phishing, scamming, spamming, server attacks, etc, not to mention helping vendors increase sales, whatever that means.

    I’m reminded of the site “Yelp”, where just about anyone could post a bad review, yet not validate. You are aware several veterinarians (and I suspect countless of business people) had to make direct contact with Yelp to correct their information and at the very least, to be able to offer rebuttals. I think Yelp finally decided to change how they allow user comments.

    Are you allowed to see the ratings? Are you allowed to read any negative reviews or know the identity of the reviewers? (the comment section on your WOT page don’t count). Are you allowed to delete comments on that comment page? If not, what are you expected to do to increase your ratings? If it isn’t based on content, then isn’t it useless. Everyone who has a website or blog is eventually subject to spammers, bots, server issues, that shouldn’t affect your content and presentation of the facts.

    Personally, I think quackometer does a much finer job in terms of distinguishing bogus websites and their content, than the WOT system. The algorithms WOT uses do not, to me, indicate they are serious about what a site or blog’s CONTENT and contribution to readers is really all about.

    Granted, I don’t yet understand the WOT’s true purpose. If it’s not content they are rating, then it is useless and just another web-rating site that counts for essentially nothing since the ratings are based on readers’ “behavior” and other non-essential elements. Have I got it all wrong?

  7. v.t. says:

    Skeptvet, additionally, I did a little digging. IMHO, the WOT is useless since there is an overabundance of bias in users, and of course, agenda-driven behavior.

    I personally feel that you and your fellow skeptics are only going to set your blogs up for failure (if you signed up for, and actually use WOT), because 1) you can’t control the masses of idiots who probably haven’t even read your content, 2) WOT does nothing to help “secure” any website, that’s what your browser is for, 3) the time and effort it would take to refute the numerous bad ratings – is it worth the time and hassle? And 4) security, in terms of avoiding scams, phishing, malware etc, google already does a pretty good job of that when you’re searching, and reputable sites generally have security certificates from the server to alert you to whether they are a “trusted site”.

    Finally, comments were posted from the mozilla add-ons site, and it’s an interesting read just how contradictory the responses from WOT were to mozilla users. WOT is not helping bloggers and their delivery of quality content, since they essentially only rely on millions of other users to do it for them, at the cost of everyone elses’ reputation. Do a bit of research yourself and you’ll find there are an equal number of people with reservations and complaints about how WOT works. There are other ratings sites out there with quality reviewers, requirements for submitting reviews and the like, don’t settle for WOT’s :

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/wot-safe-browsing-tool/reviews/?page=6

  8. skeptvet says:

    v.t.

    It certainly does seem like a WOT reputation is based primarily on individual users rating sites on content, and the other rating categories, however they like and for whatever reason they like. It is a popularity contest, pure and simple, and there isn’t any kind of meaningful standard or control for spurious or malicious negative ratings. However, that only means that the reputation doesn’t necessarily reflect the true character and value of the site. It doesn’t mean that people won’t be affected by the rating.

    If someone curious about the value of a CAVM product finds a link to this site reviewing the evidence, but that link is tagged with a WOT warning that my site is unreliable, I suspect that may prevent some people from reading my article or may color how they interpret it. So even though I agree there is not much substance to a free-for-all crowdsourced rating site, I felt obliged to challenge the negative ratings in whatever way I could (in this case by recruting readers to give positive ratings) because otherwise WOT could interfere with the function of the site: to provide information for the public.

  9. skeptvet says:

    Just saw your second post. I didn’t “sign up” for WOT. My site is automatically given a rating card and rated by anyone who chooses to do so. I simply noticed that 18 people had give unfavorable ratings, without comment, and that the integration of WOT with Facebook meant people interested in my site were getting a warning that it was unreliable. I think the point of skeptics knowing about WOT is that if our sites are trashed by those opposed to our message, we can potentially lose access to some of our audience as a result, so it might be worthwhile to challenge such efforts to discourage the public from coming to our sites. I don’t know if WOT will gain any significant traction or if it will ultimately have much influence on peoples browsing behavior. But I don’t see a problem with a little proactive self defense in case it does.

  10. v.t. says:

    The 18 ratings without comment are concerning because according to WOT, none of the comments are worth anything (they don’t increase your ratings). Heck, for all you know, some of those ratings could have been from bots or kiddies with nothing better to do than game the system (or those in the CAVM world who are simply taking advantage).

    I understand the need for the WOT Project, I guess I just wouldn’t focus so much on your “WOT reputation”, and perhaps focus on more exposure in other areas.

    It’s sad really, that people have stopped using their brains and instead turned to others to decide for them whether a site can be “trusted” or not.

    Do you have a facebook page? Maybe you could get more exposure, and certainly link the WOT Project site on your page, or the WOT Project guys could put up a page (turnabout is fair play, isn’t it?)
    🙂

  11. skeptvet says:

    I did finally get around to establishing a SkeptVet Facebook page and linking this blog to it.

  12. skeptvet says:

    Just chatting with a friend about the WOT rating, and I think I misunderstood it a bit. I believe the number on the rating bar is actually the rating on a 1-100 scale, not the number of people who rated the site. Makes a lot more sense when interpreted that way. Oops! 🙂

  13. v.t. says:

    Sure, but the result is the same. It just seems “fixed” to me (kind of like taking one step forward, and 18 steps back at YOUR expense), not that WOT is truly providing any valuable service to any website owner or blogger, just giving any joe blow the opportunity to wreak havoc on unsuspecting folks who work hard at what they do.

    Integrating this with facebook seems like a disaster waiting to happen!

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