CAVEAT: A Proposal for a Web-Wide Page Registration and Rating System
The Web's success as a worldwide self-publication
medium brings with it the problems of consumer safety: how does
the Web community protect itself from misinformation and disinformation
published on the Web? A Web-wide caveat lector is certainly
insufficient, since it presumes a worldwide readership capable
of separating fact from propaganda from dangerous fiction. A centralized
censorship bureau would kill the Web, dead.
What might work is a distributed system of volunary page registration and page rating, according to standard schema and standard criteria.
This paper describes the design and operation of such a system, called CAVEAT.
Elsewhere, I have described one of the significant
disadvantages of the unmediated self-publication model that the
Web embodies as toxic information. The plain facts are that the
quality control functions plays by earlier publication systems
- including the current worldwide book and magazine publishing
network - are entirely absent from the Web. While this may be
politically desirable, it is practically unworkable; most of the
information on the Web today is of dubious value, and a lot of
it is of detriment to readers, because it is factually incorrect,
because it is opinion or propaganda masquerading as fact, or because
acting on the information provided leads to either intellectual
confusion or to material harm.
We could remedy this situation by laissez-faire: by incorporating into the basic culture of the Web a universal caveat lector clause that left it to the reader to form their own judgements on material encountered on the Web. This is, implicitly, what we do today to combat toxic information. After a few years of usage, it's abundantly apparent that some significant number of readers - including people who ought to know better - are unable to form appropriate judgements, either because they are insufficiently educated to do so, or because the material on the Web with which they are interacting has been deliberately presented so as to make some judgements easy and others hard or impossible.
Caveat lector, in short, is not enough now,
and will certainly not be enough for the generation that comes
after us, one that by and large has had an even less adequate
critical education that we have had.
We could remedy this situation by fascism:
by creating a centralized vetting agency for Web content. It's
obvious, however, that such an agency is unworkable (it would
have to be international), dangerous (it would become the moral
equivalent of the motion picture ratings agency, with similar
effects) and contrary to the basic premise of the Web: cheap,
ubiquitous worldwide self-publication.
We could remedy this situation by communitarianism:
by creating a distributed system in which (a) publishers of Web
pages registered those pages with a central registration agency
and were given in exchange unique page identifiers, which these
publishers used to (b) provide a facility, within the page, for
any reader to rate the page according to a system of standard
rhetorical, structural and factual criteria.
This last option appears to be a workable solution,
in that (a) control over content does not leave the author, (b)
responsibility for making and using ratings still rests with the
reader and (c) the system contains no mechanism for censorship
other than the informed decision of a reader to refrain from taking
a page seriously. Furthermore, the system is voluntary, so those
authors/publishers who believe they have reasons for not participating
are not obliged to do so, and those readers who encounter pages
that do not participate in the system are aware of that fact,
and can factor that information into their decisions about the
page content's veracity.
CAVEAT: A DISTRIBUTED PAGE REGISTRATION
AND RATING SYSTEM
Theory of Operations
The theory of operations for the CAVEAT system
<HTML> <HEAD> <META NAME="CAVEAT_ID" CONTENT="74857349211"> . </HEAD> <BODY> <A HREF="http://www.caveat.org/cgi-bin/rating?74857349211"> <IMG SRC="http://www.caveat.org/images/logo.gif" ALT="CAVEAT Rating System Logo"</IMG> CAVEAT Rating System </A> . </BODY> </HTML>
Rating System Criteria
The rating system should include several kinds
The first four kinds of evaluation would be
captured via numeric sliding scales, with 0 representing the lowest
possible rating in the scale and 10 the highest. This data could
be provided by any reader anonymously (no information is captured
or stored about the reader in the CAVEAT database).
The last kind of evaluation would be captured
via text input of limited size (say, 100 words) and would require
attribution (the reader's name and electronic mail address would
be required for a qualitative evaluation to be stored in the CAVEAT
Quantitative evaluations are presented in aggregate,
as minimum, maximum, average and standard deviation values.
Qualitative evaluations are available, with
attributions in the case of each qualitative evaluation.
Architecture And Implementation Considerations
CAVEAT could be implemented using either a
distributed data store or a centralized data store. The latter
is clearly a better option for operation and maintenance, but
potentially a single point of failure or performance degradation.
However, given careful attention to the size of the data set gathered
it should be possible to build a performant
centralized data store the size of which is manageable if a significant
percentage (say 50%) of Web authors participate in the CAVEAT
The access to this system would be via standard
Web protocols and interfaces (e.g., CGI-BIN).
The direct benefits of this system are straightforward:
readers can rate Web pages, point one another to high-added-value
Web content and warn one another away from bad or scurrilous Web
content. Additionally, authors can get structured feedback on
their pages and (if they are responsible publishers) make appropriate
Ancillary benefits from the caveat system would
The ownership of the CAVEAT system and database
are of critical concern. The organization running CAVEAT must
be non-profit and non-governmental and must under no circumstances
syndicate its data for purposes other than page rating, or capture
any information about authors or readers other than that required
to do its work. Otherwise, the data captured by the system can
possibly be used for purposes contrary to the best interests of
reader and author.
The authoritative source of this document is http://www.noumenal.com/marc/caveat.html