R. David Lankes
The Lankes/Eisenberg Architecture (Lankes, 1999) divides the Internet and, by extension, digital networks into four distinct layers: infrastructure providers, application builders, information services, and users. The following sections define these layers and provide examples of how each level, aside from the use level, can manipulate information in a way that is completely transparent to the user.
Infrastructure is composed of hardware, such as routers, and protocols, such as the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol /Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite used to move bits from one place to another on the Internet, and the organizations, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provide and maintain these mechanisms. This layer is often the most invisible to end users yet can have a profound impact on the information being provided to users for credibility assessments. Infrastructure providers can easily block traffic to and from certain destinations. What many people do not realize is that such blocked traffic can be made invisible. For example, when a library blocks access to certain Web sites, it may post a message to a patron’s browser stating that the site is blocked. However, there is no technical barrier to that library only providing a “site not found” indication to a user’s browser…the same error it would send if the user misspelled a URL. Further, ISPs can block access to any application, disabling software such as Instant Messaging (IM) at the network layer. The user, not aware of such a block, would only know that their IM program did not connect to a server and may assume the error lies in the remote server, thus affecting a user’s credibility assessment of the remote server, not the infrastructure provider.
Applications on the Internet are software that allows information to be exchanged between different actors on the Internet. Applications include web browsers and IM clients, as well as high-level protocols such as the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that transfers web pages. This broad category covers everything from e-mail applications that automatically mark incoming messages as “junk mail” to the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) that enables e-mail over the Internet, including spam. Spam filters are excellent examples of technology affecting credibility in a nearly invisible way. Many schools have implemented spam filters based on opaque and often proprietary algorithms at the organization level, discarding numerous e-mail messages before any human eyes ever see them.
Information services are organizations that use applications and infrastructure to meet users’ needs on the Internet; examples include Google, Facebook, or a library Web site. There are ample studies that look at how information services such as Google skew results in their search engines (for an example and further citations, see Choo & Roy, 2004). For example, top results tend toward shopping and technology services in Google (Mowshowitz and Kawaguchi, 2002). Without knowing this, users may assume that top results are the “best” regardless of context.
The use layer is comprised of individuals and groups, such as teachers and patrons, who primarily consume information and seek to meet their own information needs on the Internet.
Choo, J., & Roy, S. (2004). Impact of search engines on page popularity. In International World Wide Web Conference: Proceedings of the 13th international conference on World Wide Web (pp. 20–29). New York: ACM Press.
Lankes, R. D. (1999). Building and maintaining Internet information services: K-12 digital reference services. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology.
Lankes, R. D. (2008). Credibility on the Internet: Shifting from authority to reliability. Journal of Documentation, 64(5), 667–686. [2009 Literati Outstanding Paper Award]
Mowshowitz, A., & Kawaguchi, A. (2002). The consumer side of search: Bias on the web. Communications of the ACM, 45(9), 56–60.