Monday, February 13, 2012

This Is What Bothers Me About Some Infographics

Warning: This started out as a short post and turned into a bit of a rant. This post is mostly intended as food for thought for edubloggers. 

Infographics are all over the web these days. Not a week passes without a new infographic making the rounds on blogs, on Twitter, Pinterest, or whatever social network is hot at the time. Have you wondered why there are so many infographics being produced? The answer is, they are generally great for SEO. Which leads me to the first thing that bothers me about some infographics.

My first problem with some infographics.
Many of the infographics that are circulating in the ed tech space are produced by websites with names like "Best Online Degrees." Why are those websites producing infographics? Because they rely on referral traffic a.k.a. affiliate fees to earn their money. Now, I'm all for websites and blogs making money (as I've stated before, the ads on this blog help me buy groceries), but go about it ethically. This is the problem I have with an infographic titled The Digital Classroom (Google it if you like, I'm not linking to it) that is making the rounds today. The Digital Classroom was produced by one of these "Best Online Universities" outfits.

Here's the ethics problem I have with these outfits. They only recommend programs that they can benefit from making referrals to. I tried out two of these "Best Online Universities" search/ recommendation sites today. In the first case I was only referred to one school despite the many variables that I tried. In the second case I was referred to the same three universities regardless of the search variables that I entered. I've included the screen shots of the process from my first trial.

Step One: Visit the site and select your search criteria. 

Step Two: View your search results. Notice that only one result is served. Enter your all of your contact data then get taken to step three. 

Step Three: Where you would expect to see something like, "thank you for providing all of your contact data so that we can call and email you twice a week for the next decade" you instead get taken to another search page that repeats the process you just completed.

I won't get into the problems these online degree search/recommendation sites pose to potential students because Dan Meyer explained it much better than I can. In fact, Dan Meyer's post Stop Linking to Top 100 Blog Lists is what got me thinking about the SEO tactics of online degree search sites. I'll let you consider points Dan raises on your own. 

My concern with the online degree search/recommendation sites that I've looked at, including the one that produced The Digital Classroom infographic that is popular today, is that they don't disclose their affiliations. Think about it this way, how would parents react if they found out that a high school guidance department was making college recommendations to students based on the fact that they would receive money for every student that enrolled at those colleges? Would you trust that guidance department? I wouldn't. Incidentally, this is why I disclose my affiliations when writing about or Tweeting about one of my advertiser's services or products.

My second problem with some infographics.
The other problem I have with some infographics is the quality, or lack thereof, of the information contained within them. I've previously written about this in my post Deconstructing Infographics

So should I link to, post, or use infographics?
There isn't a clear-cut answer to that question. I evaluate each infographic individually before I decide whether or not to share it on Free Technology for Teachers. I have posted plenty of infographics in the past and will continue to do so when they are produced by companies whose business practices don't raise red flags for me.