The importance of visual literacy

Over the past couple of months I have received numerous calls about the Biz Wiki.   The callers,   emailers, and IMers all have something in common:   they all own a business or work at a business whose name or contact information is incorrect on the Biz Wiki.   I even got a call recently from some lady in Mississippi who kept getting calls at her home   because people thought she was in the recycling business.   All of these people said they got their information from the Biz Wiki.   Actually, the did get their information from a biz wiki, but it was not The Biz Wiki.   I don’t have information about individual companies in the Biz Wiki, as it is a site meant to promote useful business research sources.   The other wiki is a collection of company names, addresses, and other information.     (I’m not going to link to the other wiki here out of spite, as I don’t want to increase it’s page rankings.   Google it if you want to see it. The address has something like bizwiki and .com in it. 😉   )   While the idea of using a wiki as a company directory is a good one, it’s not so good if a lot of the content is just plain wrong.   Wrong information is irritating, as are the frequent phone calls requesting that I fix the inaccuracies.   Folks are even more irritated when I very politely tell them they’ve got the wrong wiki, but a little visual literacy could have saved them a phone call.

If we compare the two sites, they are not very similar at all, save for the words “biz” and “wiki.” I seriously wish I had trademarked the name.

The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The original Biz Wiki
The original Biz Wiki

Folks are likely finding me by searching for Biz Wiki, and then they see a guy named “Chad” with lots of different ways to contact him.   They’re good at Googling, or so they think, and they think they’ve found the root of all the misinformation about their company.   Unfortunately, their sleuthing isn’t good enough, as somehow they can’t figure out that the two sites (see screenshots above) are not similar at all.   A quick look at the two sites ought to alert them that something is different with my contact information page and the other web site.   A simple look at the address bar would tell folks that the sites are in two different locations, but perhaps they don’t know to look in the address bar.       The people are kind of miffed when I p0litely tell them that I’m not the guy responsible for that site and I cannot correct the information there.   Many of them ask who I should contact, but the contact information of the other site is very sparse (a email form with no contact info whatsoever).

These are basic skills that librarians teach in information literacy and library instruction sessions.   We teach our students how to look for authority in a website, how to look at the address (edu, gov, org, com, etc.) , look for the author information, and even to look at the design.   Hopefully the things we’re teaching them are sticking, so they’ll be a bit more saavy consumers of web information.   While the phone calls and email about the other biz wiki are a bit annoying,   they do lend evidence to the fact that librarians are still important in the education process.   My theory is that the folks who called me never had a library instruction class in college, or perhaps they’re the one’s who didn’t listen very well.   I know I’ll be a bit more deliberate in my libray instruction sessions from now on, and hopefully I’ll save some poor chap some phone calls down the road.

4 thoughts on “The importance of visual literacy

  1. Hi Chad

    I was very interested to read your post about Visual Literacy because I just experienced the flip side of your experience; I work on the website and had your article forwarded by someone looking for your ‘The Biz Wiki’ site. Unfortunately you are absolutely correct, even with clearly different urls and websites confusions like this are common online and likely to continue.

    Now the good news. Firstly, is currently an early version (Alpha) of the business wiki we are creating, but within the next few weeks will go beta with a fresh set of information and business records. That should make a big difference to the currency of the information on the site. The web is an imperfect medium and with millions of business records in circulation even with daily updates there are always going to be some out of date, but I would hope it will mean less people bothering you about a site they mistook for your own.

    Secondly and even more importantly, the new version of the site will have full wiki functionality, so if there are any inaccuracies in company listings, users and editors will be able to update them -the beauty of the wiki model is that we are creating the tools needed to empower business owners, managers and websurfers to easily change and edit the records. The exciting big picture is that means any and every user will be able to contribute to the process of fixing any inaccuracies and adding detail, but from your point of view again it should mean less reason for them to accidentally contact you.

    In the meantime, thank you for your patience in sending them to the correct site, and good luck with your ongoing efforts in information literacy.

    Matt Aird

  2. @Matt Aird
    Hi Matt, Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments, and *I guess* I’m glad to hear you’re dealing with similar frustrations. I’m glad you’ll enable users and browsers the ability to edit incorrect content, but do you really think they will do so? I sort of have my doubts that the folks who cannot tell two different websites apart will be able to edit their contact info in the wiki. I’m hoping I’m proven wrong, but it will take some major educational initiatives on your part to convince these same folks that they can edit the content themselves. May I also suggest that you put a name on your webiste they can contact if they need help?

    Best of luck with your endeavor.

  3. Hi Chad
    Just to give you an update, the fully functional beta version of is now live. That means that visitors are now able to edit and amend records. I agree it may take educating visitors to convince some of the less web-savvy people that they can edit the pages, but we go out of our way to stress this with update/edit and report error links on just about every part of the page.

    Feel free to visit the Ohio University page if you’d like to see for yourself.
    You can even try editing or expanding it if you like.

    And yes, if all else fails, there is a contact page in case people need further help.

    Thanks agaon for your comments.

    Matt Aird

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