UPDATE: Based on feedback the author has made corrections to remove incorrect information from the article that should be published at some point.
Today an article on SQL Server Central titled SQL Server Memory Configuration, Determining MemToLeave Settings was published that has incorrect information and fails to adequately cover the subject. I've left a comment on the article, but the subject of MemToLeave in SQL Server is to vast to cover in the comments on a article that are unlikely to be read by someone who has a problem with VAS in their SQL Server instance. I'll be posting an article or blog post to address that topic in more detail in a bit.
The problem of knowing what information online is accurate is becoming bigger and bigger every day. It isn't hard to get published online these days, anyone can start their own blog on one of the major blog sites, or even create their own domain and use a product like WordPress to have a site up and running in under a day. Not all blogs are bad, and any blogger is bound to make an error at some point in time. So how do you know if a blog is a good source for the information you found on it? For me personally, a lot of it will have to do with who wrote the blog post, but if you are new to SQL Server, this won't be very useful. From that stand point, I'd try and do a search for the persons name online and see what else they wrote. If you are looking at Adam Machanic's blog and want to know if his information on splitting strings in SQLCLR is any good, a quick search on Google or Bing would give you an idea of who Adam is. In addition to this, I'd look at comments on the blog, not necessarily a specific post but the entire blog. If you find a lot of unanswered comments, or negative comments, you might question the content more. Its really hit or miss with blog posts sometimes, so use caution with these.
Anyone can also submit articles to sites like SQL Server Central, SQL Team, Simple Talk, SearchSQLServer, and a long list of other sites. Add to the mix the numerous forums groups that are also on these sites, and you have a mix of information that makes it difficult to know what is right and wrong. To someone new to SQL Server, or the online communities, this is nothing less than the Perfect Storm of information, and what I find is that the sites that you might expect to have the most accurate and up to date information, have articles that fall short like the one today. This discussion is not new one, Aaron Alton semi-covered this problem, though from a different angle, in his blog post A Publishers Responsibility. I am pretty sure that I was involved in every one of those Twitter discussions on the problem of bad articles being published on big sites.
It is easy to point fingers at who to blame for the problem of bad content article wise on big sites, but I don't know that it really is the answer. I know Steve Jones from SQL Server Central, and I don't envy the job that he has managing the content that gets published on SQL Server Central. It would take a team of experts in SQL Server to tech edit every article that gets published and that isn't financially or time permitting for most of the sites listed, though I haven't personally worked with all of them to publish content. In most cases an article of questionable content to the community, may not raise any flags during the publishing process unless it is grossly incorrect. The editors for the sites claim they don't have the wherewithal to be complete experts on SQL and run the sites as well. Instead they rely on the community to more or less police itself with ratings and comments. The disconnect here is the expectation that people actually read comments on an article before trying what the article suggests, and it fails to fix the problem, or makes the problem worse.
The online forums communities are a bit different when compared to sites that publish online articles. The primary difference here is that these communities really do police themselves to a greater deal. The other difference is that comments to a question can be read in the chronology of the forum thread. I don't know anyone who reads a question and possible solution then jumps at trying that out. People tend to read the entire thread to see what all was said during the history of the thread. I tend to put a little bit of faith into what I find in online forums and newsgroups when I am searching for a problem. Not to say that bad answers don't occur on forums, but when they do, they are more likely to be corrected by a subsequent post and you see this as a part of the thread.
In addition to this, forums have rating/ranking systems in place that provide information about how active a member is and in some cases, how often their responses are the answer to the question being asked. This can help aid in determining the persons level of credibility, but it can also be misleading. I reply to SQL Server topics all the time on MSDN and I have a MVP tag associated with my Live ID. If I reply in a Visual C# Express my profile is the same so you might think I know what I am talking about, but I am outside of my area of expertise, so use forum member rankings carefully when determining if content is correct or not.
The best source of online content is likely, the print magazine sites where the content is the digital version of the in print copy of their publication, TechNet, MSDN Mag, SQLMag, Windows IT Pro, and others. These publishers are generally more picky about the content they allow simply because their users pay for the content. This means that you are usually reading materials written by more established names in the industry like Paul Randal, Adam Machanic, Andrew Kelly, Kalen Delaney, Kevin Kline, or Itzik Ben Gan. Following right behind these in credibility of information would be whitepaper's, and then digital copies of books (that are purchased legally, don't go horse trading online copies of books because authors put a lot of time into writing them). Each of these forms of media go through a complex process of reviews to ensure that the information in them is both technically and grammatically correct.
So to recap, the level of credibility I give information based on where I find it in descending order of credibility would be:
- Online copies of Print Magazines
- Online Articles
Now if you know the author of the Online Article or Blog post, then the information contained there should be considered credible, at least to the extent that anything else they wrote would be. In reality unless you have something just completely obscure going on, you should be able to search for the solution, now that you think you've found one, and find it repeated in another source somewhere. There are obscure things that you can still search for and you won't find much information, in which case, you might try utilizing the contact method available on a blog or article to get further information from the author. The main takeaway from this is that you need to be careful what information you follow if you get it online.