In this day of the Internet and social networking, it is popular for people to rely on information that they find in online forums. Some people have decided that it is better to trust someone on the Internet than work with a professional whose paycheck depends on doing a good job.
Whether people just do not just their ability to judge people in person or they just feel more comfortable on the web, using information from the web is part of today's life. Yet, the Internet is no different than any other information source. You need to evaluate not only the information but also the source of the information.
While it is true that the Internet is all about marketing so also is much of the information you find in the world of print. You need to use your best analytical skills on Internet information.
So how do you tell if someone is a reliable source of information?
First people who communicate a lot on the Internet often have public profiles which let you look at their resumes and comments about them made by people who really know them. It is my first choice when trying to figure out whether or not someone has anything valuable to add to a conversation.
Some of the forums keep people's names hidden behind "user handles" but usually you can figure out who someone is. I have found the value of the information is often inversely related to the difficulty of finding out about the person. In other words if the person is well hidden and hard to research, their information is likely suspect. If someone is easy to find and open about their qualifications, then it is usually safe to assume their information is good. Someone who has a good public reputation likely wants to keep it that way.
After trying to find a public profile, my next line of defense is to look at the actual information that has been provided. People, who are pushing a particular idea to the exclusion of all else, usually are unreliable sources of information. You want to get your information from someone who has a broad enough view of the issues to provide you with the best possible information. Good information usually ends up providing you with a few options.
Those, who can only see one possible response to a question, often have not had the experience to offer more than one answer.
As a Realtor®, it is not unusual to receive criticism that you are just doing something in order to get someone to buy a home in your area. This suggestion is probably about the only thing funny going around in the real estate business these days. First, only someone who is clueless about the way people buy homes would make the suggestion.
People are very picky these days about their home purchases. What I say on an online forum has to match reality, or I lose credibility and clients quickly. You just do not trick people into buying homes. Buying a home takes weeks if not months or years. There are multiple opportunities for potential buyers to evaluate their real estate agents and quickly ditch them for another one. My job and income depends on providing accurate information.
People end up contacting you only if have some sense of trust by seeing that what you have said matches what they have seen. Or in the real estate world if you happen to have a property that interests them, they will sometimes call without any thought to what real estate agent they are calling.
It is important to remember that multiple people can look at the same situation (or house in the case of real estate) and come up with different scenarios and thoughts. That is just human nature. People who write a lot and work at being impartial try to remove their biases but it is hard to accomplish.
Still by having my opinions out on the web, I am putting my opinion out in the public sphere where criticism and discussion can happen. There is some similarity to the world of open source software which believe that software code should be open for inspection, criticism, and improvement. I welcome intelligent discussions of different points of view. It is healthy for all of us.
I do end up with people contacting me who see things similarly to the way I do. It provides both client and Realtor® with a better relationship. Not surprisingly some of my clients end up being very good friends because we see the world very similarly. That is not always the case, but it is a very pleasant experience when it does happen.
So what are some of the danger signs in Internet information?
The biggest one is the personal attack. It someone resorts to attacking someone's imagined motives, it usually shows that the person does not have much of an argument worth considering. There are exceptions to this rule, I have seen people call down people for business practices that give all professions a bad name. One I saw recently involved a real estate agent using his kids as bait to get potential buyers in his office. I am sure the agent is probably sorry he ever did that now.
Still if someone is attacking another person for imagined motives, you can likely be sure the person is not a trusted source of information.
One of the best ways to figure out is someone is giving out good information is read several pieces of advice that they have given. If they are well reasoned, well supported, and sounds reasonable, there is a good chance that they are useful. If someone backs up the suggestions, then that is another clue that the information is good. If someone offers a counterpoint but has little to support it, that also adds credibility to the original information. If you cannot find real support for a counter view, the first information looks pretty good.
When all else fails, ask the person tough questions and see how they respond. If there is no response or the response is weak, you have your answer.
The Internet is a challenging spot, but among all the conflicting information there is good information, you just have to know how to find and verify it.
Speaking of good information, check out my recent post on how to be a good local expert for the Crystal Coast.