“How do I know if a website is safe?” is a question that I get pretty regularly. In general, it’s difficult for the average person to ascertain without help.
WOT collects user ratings from internet users just like you and me and makes those ratings available in various forms. When you’re thinking of clicking on a link, you can use these to look before you leap.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
How WOT works
WOT relies on a “crowdsourced” model of information gathering. What that means is that registered WOT members rate websites that they actually visit and interact with based on four criteria: trustworthiness, vendor reliability, privacy, and child safety.
Much like a rating system that you might find in an online store or other votable venue, sites accumulate a reputation based on how people vote.
Those ratings are then made available to anyone.
Can the system be gamed?
By far, the most commonly asked question that people have is “Doesn’t that mean that the system can be gamed?” For example, could a malicious site purposely get a bunch of people to rate it as safe? Or conversely, could a competitor of a legitimate site maliciously give that site poor ratings?
It’s certainly been my primary concern; in fact, it kept me from recommending WOT for some time.
I recently had a chance to exchange emails with a WOT representative who provided this information:
When learning about the concept behind WOT, some people conclude that the system could easily be spammed with tons of ratings. They assume that unscrupulous competitors can rate their site down or otherwise manipulate reputations, but that’s not true. We designed the reputation system to be as fair as possible and very resistant to manipulation, including more sophisticated attacks conducted using botnets, for example.
Usually in reputation systems, each rating is weighted equally and reputations are computed as the average of all ratings, which makes them extremely vulnerable to automated attacks. Therefore, we decided to value ratings by their merit and use some of the principles of Bayesian inference for combining the ratings into reputations… The system analyzes each user’s
rating behavior from several aspects in order to determine their reliability. When you start using WOT, your ratings have little weight, but if you keep rating sites consistently, your ratings will be considered more reliable over time. The meritocratic nature of the system makes it far more difficult for spammers to abuse, because bots will have a hard time simulating human behavior over a long period of time.
Put more directly: WOT has a trust system of its own and the ratings that have the most impact are those from trusted sources.
The simplest way to use WOT is simply to visit mywot.com and enter a domain name into the box in the upper right corner:
As you can see, I’ve entered ask-leo.com. Press Enter for a report on that site’s reputation:
Thankfully, Ask Leo! scores “Excellent” in all four measures: trustworthiness, vendor reliability, privacy and child safety.
It’s important to note that no site will be perfect. As much as I hate to see it, occasionally people are unhappy with the service that I provide and might rate Ask Leo! lower. The same is very true for any site.
That’s why the concept of crowdsourcing is so valuable. Rather than being swayed by a proportionally small number of bad experiences, site reputations are based on the majority of experiences – of trusted reviewers at that – and represent an evaluation of what you are likely to experience yourself.
Raters may also leave comments associated with the site that they’re rating. On the site, it says, “Comments provide more information, but do not affect the reputation.”
Once again, WOT uses crowdsourcing to rate the comments.
People can “agree” or “disagree” with a comment, which gives you a feel for just how common that sentiment might be and to what degree you might want to pay attention to it in forming your own opinion.
Yes, even Ask Leo! has at least one negative comment.
And several votes disagreeing with it.
(For the record, while nothing prevents me from rating my own site or voting up/down on comments about my site, it feels like bad form. So no, I haven’t gone out and added my voice to ask-leo.com’s WOT scorecard one way or the other ).
Remembering to check a URL with WOT before you go there is … well, it’s a hassle at best and it’s something that you’re not likely to remember to do at worst.
Not a problem. WOT has browser add-ons that make it even easier. The WOT browser add-on is available for IE, FireFox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari.
A couple of interesting things happen when the add-on is installed.
Your search results get an additional icon that indicate the target page’s reputation. Here’s Ask Leo! in the search results:
You can hover your mouse pointer over the icon to see the ratings. Here’s a site whose reputation is less than stellar:
Not only is the icon red, but you can see the various ratings by category. This is clearly not a site that’s safe for children, for example.
In addition to search results, the add-on also places the reputation of the current site in your toolbar:
The icon changes color with the reputation of the site. In this case, I’ve clicked on it to display the entire reputation panel. From there, you can then also visit the WOT scorecard page for the site, if you are so inclined.
This is the same panel that registered WOT users would use to actually rate a site that they’re visiting.
WOT in the wild
You may start seeing WOT in more places, particularly if you’re on Facebook.
WOT recently announced a partnership with Facebook to use WOT reputation ratings to protect users and warn them if the links that are being shared have a bad reputation.
With a browser add-on installed, you’ll already see WOT’s reputation icons in Facebook as you do on search results. This new partnership goes a step further, warning people who share or click a questionable link.
There’s a lot more to WOT, including the ability to determine which ratings are important to you, what search engines and sites its rating should appear in, and even under what rating conditions it should block access to sites.
The bottom line
You don’t have to rate sites or register to take advantage of WOT’s site reputation information or to use the browser add-on. It’s free and
available to anyone.
While it’s probably not a good idea to take the ratings as absolute gospel, WOT is a valuable source of information that can help you make significantly more informed decisions about the sites you visit.
Web of Trust –
I recommend it.