WOT The ???
We pulled our recommendation for Web of Trust (WOT) quite a while ago. Before I get started, I want you to know that the idea behind WOT was one that sounded great conceptually, but fails miserably in reality. The idea of having hundreds of thousands of people rating web sites and giving others a heads-up on the bad ones, sounds so democratic and so fair. But as those of us who’ve observed human nature for more than 25 years, know there are more followers than leaders – and the doom and gloom crowd shuts louder than the happy crowd. It just takes a few paranoid radicals who may (or may not) have had a bad experience with a legitimate site to fire up a crowd of followers. Face it, it’s a lot easier to get people to follow you by terrifying them and offering to save them, than it is by offering reasonable ideas and using facts as the basis for opinions.
WOT seems to be perfect example of mob mentality gone wrong. I used WOT for a couple of years – and the longer I used it the more I noticed that I was being warned about many perfectly legitimate sites that I’d used and trusted for years. As time passed, more and more warnings began to appear. Others might have concluded (wrongly) that those sites had suddenly gone sour. So how exactly does WOT determine which sites are good and which sites are bad?
We’ve never been able to figure out exactly how WOT arrives at its ratings, I found out no one who could really explain EXACTLY how WOT arrives at its ratings. How much weight do they give to the opinions of the members of the WOT community? As of today, 17 February 2011, there were 504,246, 943 site ratings posted in the community. The top five members posted over 250,000 ratings. That averages over 50,000 each. I can’t imagine how anyone finds the time to make 50,000 posts on anything. Can you?
Another interesting thing.
Comments by members
Does anything look out of whack to you? Over 10 million negative and only about a half-million positive comments? Really? How much weight does WOT give to the opinion of their community and who are these people who make over 50,000 posts each?
Anyway, think about that while I tell you something else about WOT:
We’ve always wondered how WOT was going to make money. Eventually they had to find a way to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with making money – it’s not a sin. Everyone needs to eat, pay their bills, pay for a place to live. It costs a lot of money to operate a site as large as WOT – they have server expenses, IT expenses, a CEO and employees to pay. So there’s nothing wrong with WOT wanting to make money from their toolbar. But I seriously question the model they chose. They chose what I call the TRUSTe model.
You remember TRUSTe, right? They’re the company that sold their badge of trust to the biggest purveyor of spyware the web has ever seen – Hotbar (now defunct by-the-way). It wasn’t until we and others questioned how they could possibly give Hotbar their seal of trust, (back when Hotbar was known as a spyware peddler extraordinaire) that TRUSTe finally withdrew their seal. If I had a dollar for every computer that Hotbar ruined, I’d give you all $50 and still have millions left. I wonder how many people saw the TRUSTe seal and thought “gee, I can trust Hotbar!”. When you are in a business of trust and you start selling seals of trust, you’re immediately putting yourself in a conflict of interest. If you’re not selling as many seals as you need to sell to stay afloat, then do you lower your standards or do you lower your price? WOT is willing to sell their seal (badge) for just over $400 a year. In return for that money a web site gets a badge to put on their pages that tells visitors their site is supposedly reliable and trustworthy.
This revenue model is flawed and it’s been flawed for more than a decade. We’re not going to give WOT $400 or $40 to display a badge that says our site is good. In our opinion WOT and other toolbars of its ilk, are becoming less safe-surfing toolbars and more censorship toolbars. It’s almost like a spam filter for your browser.
We’d still like to know how WOT arrives at its ratings. If someone from WOT would like to explain to us, in detail, we’d be happy to listen. The world is changing – and all current version Web browsers include some protection from phishing and other malicious sites. The safe-surfing toolbar idea was a good one on paper, but one that fails in reality. We think too many sites are being incorrectly labeled as questionable or worse by WOT and other safe surfing toolbars. If one company, who makes a safe-surfing toolbar, used by millions, decided it wanted to intentionally harm the reputation of another site or competitive site, who could stop them? We’re not saying that WOT would ever do this, what we’re saying is anytime you start using arbitrary or questionable information to rate a business or a Web site, the possibility exists that all kinds of bad things could happen.
There are no laws to protect innocent web sites from predatory practices. And if a site incorrectly listed as dangerous, and WOT or one of the other companies who make these kinds of toolbars admits it has made an error, how long will it take for that company to correct it’s error? And what of the site whose reputation was tarnished by a few days or a few weeks of being incorrectly listed as a dangerous site? Who’s going to make up for the lost sales – who’s going to help them repair the damage to their reputation. Not WOT – and none of the the other companies who make these kind of censorship toolbars. Well, that’s exactly what they are…a mini-government embedded in your browser. No one wants government to invade our lives or make personal decisions for us, but so many are so willing to allow companies like WOT to tell them what is good and what is bad. If WOT were 100% accurate, or even 90% accurate, I still wouldn’t think it was a good idea. There is too much chance for abuse to be of use.
Right now, we’re not recommending WOT or any other censorship (safe-surfing) toolbar. We recommend is a common sense approach. We are advocates for you, for your personal choices. Take personal responsibility and stay informed. And above all, use your common sense and the tools you already have – like your browser and your favorite search engine. If you’re not sure about a site, google it. Get the opinion of others – not the opinion of one company – and decide for yourself.
Always make sure you’re using the latest version of whichever browser you prefer. Keep your antispyware and antivirus programs up-to-date, and use common sense when you’re browsing the web. Our society is more and more abdicating personal responsibility and more and more people are allowing others to make their choices for us. Don’t let biased or flawed safe-surfing toolbars shoo you away from sites which may well be worthwhile. Rely on yourself to make the right choices and use the tools you already have to find the answers when you’re not sure.
We won’t be displaying any paid WOT badges on our Web site. Does it matter to you if we do?