I have recently done some research on trust and reputation in the online world and how you can differentiate online between the good guys and the bad guys. Google can be helpful but you need to decide which sources you believe.
It started with a computer article about not needing to upgrade HW/SW as a lifestyle (against geek convention) which recommended a life skills course.
A description of the course curriculum which might be interesting to people looking for self improvement.
After a google search, some info was obtained that strongly indicates this is a cult that could cause serious problems.
Another example, like Ginette’s lawyer story, about the advantages of using google to avoid scams and to check into things.
There is also a group that is categorizing web sites as a way of warning people of possible dangers. They have a plugin for Firefox which will indicate whether sites are dangerous from a computer malware point of view. The big question is how authoritative and trusted they can become and what criteria is used especially in the grey areas.
I had a nasty experience with some fake video codec software that turned out to be malware. This software actually provided notices that there was malware present and suggested paying for a program they provided which just installed more malware. Siteadvisor provides some cautionary indicators for spyaxe.net (**My warning is don’t download this software**) but it doesn’t actually provide a serious enough warning in my opinion. What I would recommend as one of the good guys for spyware prevention – pandasoftware.
Google research on what a variety of people are saying is still needed to get a more complete picture. The question with Google searches is whether the google ranking is a reliable indicator of the authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the source. Since google rankings are based in part on the number of links it is not directly based on authoritativeness but rather on the assumption that most people link to sites that they think are useful, accurate, or worthwhile. This can be also misleading since people can manipulate the rankings in various ways and notorious sites might also get a lot of links.
This same issue of authoritativeness and trustworthiness is also played out on projects like wikipedia since anyone can contribute information. A pessimist (realist?) might think that this type of approach would lead to a lot of inaccurate and misleading if not just graffiti type information. The amazing thing is that the information developed is actually in general quite good (check it out for yourself on a subject you have some knowledge about) because there are more good people who care more about providing and correcting information that is good and truthful than there are who want to mislead and distort for their own purposes. Maybe there is some hope for the democracy of caring online. Nevertheless we should not leave this to chance but look for improved ways of tipping the odds in favor of the good guys. There are some exciting things happening with social networking and online identity that could help address this increasingly important area.