Category Archives: CRAAP

Brainstorming the Internet

Douglas Copeland "I Miss my Pre-Internet Brain" Campaign

Douglas Coupland’s “I Miss my Pre-Internet Brain” Campaign

The Internet Course summer edition has officially started, and today we brainstormed some research approaches to the four major topics we’ll be designing the course around over the next five weeks. Below is a record of that process, and it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences with the spring semester’s brainstorming session back in January. During tomorrow’s class we’ll discuss the CRAAP Test video, as well as get an overview of researching in UMW’s library. After that they’ll immediately be set loose on the library given they only have two days to find three relevant articles for each of the four topics (twelve in all). The life of an internaut is INTENSE!

Once they’ve done their research, students submit their findings to an online form. The articles/books are then vetted by Paul and I based on the CRAAP test (using the red, yellow, green light method described here). An important note here is that there can’t be any redundancy, if two students find the same article or book the first to submit it gets credit and they other has to go fish. This is possible because the form is public and they can see everyone else’s submissions. At least half of the 12 articles/books they find have to be green, which means the meet all of the elements of the CRAAP test. The other half have to at least be yellow, which means there are a few elements in question. Nothing red counts towards the twelve articles they need to find. And with that the course begins to take shape based on what they discover. Hopefully as much of this process is driven by interest and curiosity as expediency and getting it done.

Oh yeah, and after all this are the article/book summaries…

Topic 1: Where it comes from (origins of the internet)

The Internet: Where it comes from

This topic quickly becomes the Who, What, When Where, and Why of the internet. Al Gore can’t be underestimated in this process, and it’s interesting that this was the same approach taken to this topic by the class during the Spring semester. What quickly becomes apparent with this topic is that so many of these details are negotiable. Did the internet start in 1969? Was it earlier, say 1959? or even 1945? Obviously there are hard and fast facts, but the nexus of relationships and events makes the history far richer than the standard narrative.

Topic 2: How it works

The Internet: How it works

This topic was interesting because the first suggestions that came up was what the hell is binary? Which led to what is digital? I love that it started with these concepts, because in many ways they undergird the internet. From there they suggested hardware, software, protocols, languages, and I threw in packet switching towards the end using bitTorrent as an example to try and explain how this means of networked communication works. A solid list to start thinking about research possibilities to find articles for this topic.

Topic 3: Social Impacts

The Internet: Social Impacts

It’s almost ridiculous to suggest we can cover the social impacts of the internet in a week, but faith springs eternal. And just from this cursory list it quickly becomes apparent just how broad and deep the impact is across all domains. I’m hoping as we work up to this topic we can identify a way that pulls from numerous examples to try and communicate these impacts. It will be fun to see how the project for this week attempts to communicate this, should be fun to watch that unfold.

Topic 4: Where it’s going

The Internet: Where it’s going

The final topic is the future of the internet, and interestingly enough much of our future framed here is the present. From cloud computing to Google Glass (wearable tech) to Big Data to 3D Printing to the Internet of Things—the future is now. It can be hard to think outside the present, so this topic is an interesting thought experiment, and hopefully we’ll push hard on whether the internet will even be recognizable as such in the not so near future.

Talking CRAAP


adapted from Vector traffic lights (

We have started color coding the entries in the reading list – red, yellow and green.
Red means find a different reading. This could be because someone else got it first, or because it didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Green means the reading looks good.
Yellow is a caution. Many of the yellows are coming from sources geared towards general audiences, rather than sources for research and study. It doesn’t mean the readings can’t be used.

When you write your summaries, you should also put in a short statement of justification, explaining why you considered it a good reading to bring to the class. If the reading is marked in yellow, give this step some extra attention.

I consider the five points of the CRAAP test when I look at the readings:
Currency: Is it up to date? Does it need to be? A 1999 article on the early history of the Internet may be as good as one from last year. But we should also keep in mind that it misses the last 15 years of Internet history. On the other hand, things change quickly. A 5 year old news article on online dating sites is probably out of date. If it were a sociological study of the impact of online dating it could be relevant today.
Relevance: Subject-wise, relevance is pretty obvious. We also have to think about audience relevance. A PhD level technical paper on advanced mobile web technology might be over our heads. A site about the web aimed at middle schoolers is probably beneath our level.
Authority: Who wrote it, and why should we listen to them? This is where news and other popular media sources are questionable, because the authors tend to be generalists, not experts. An interview with an expert would have a bit more authority, however. Web sources are even more questionable, they sometimes do not even list authors.
Accuracy: This can be hard to judge if we’re novices. One thing to look for is a reference list. Does the article give evidence to support what it says? And if we are confident in the currency, authority and purpose, we could feel good about an articles accuracy.
Purpose: Why was the article written. What is the author/publisher trying to accomplish? Popular media is mostly advertising-driven. The ultimate purpose is to connect ads to eyeballs, and to hold the reader’s attention. Academic journals are written for research and study. They put abstracts right up front so you can know in a paragraph whether it’s worth your time to read further.

Popular and general interest sources are useable though. As an example, I found an article in a newspaper that talked about the NSA and internet governance with a couple of the pioneers who helped build the internet. I thought about making it a required reading, but held off in case someone else decides to use it. As a newspaper article, I’d give a yellow light right off the bat. But it’s current, and something like the NSA controversy is so current that it will mainly be addressed in news sources. It gives a lot of names of people and organizations involved in Internet development and governance, so I could use it as a starting point to find further information. It also links to some of the organizations. And it interviews experts, so their authority adds to the author’s. So even though it’s just a news article, it is something we can learn from.

Bravo to Amber!

… for putting the first reading on the list: “Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?”

This article makes a good test case for what is good enough for the list. Two big points from the CRAAP test are Authority and Purpose. What is Sam Gustin’s expertise? You can click on his name just below the article title and see what else he’s written for Time. And what is Time‘s authority and purpose? Given that Time is part of Time Warner, a major broadband provider, can we trust them to give us a even-handed account of this issue? I’m not saying that the article is biased or not, just that we should ask the question. If we took this article from the print version of Time, I might consider it a borderline case.

But maybe the real authority in the article is Susan Crawford, since her work is the subject. And since the article is online, the hyperlinks extend the content. The second link in the article goes to the Amazon page for the book, where you can use the Look Inside function to see its Table of Contents and entire Introduction. That connection adds a whole extra dimension to the article, and makes it that much more powerful, more than just a news article – as long as one uses the links.

At the time I looked at the article, the first link gives a Page Not Found error because it goes to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, rather than the Cardozo School of Law where Crawford actually works, but that only calls into question the competence of Time’s editors, and not the quality of the article. They may have it fixed by the time anyone reads this.