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online research guide laptop verification
online research guide laptop verification

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» Guide


12 Tips for Verification

Methodology Note: I included screenshots to capture how the examples looked at the time I conducted the searches. These results may change over time. The search on the internet company Brevvie is just an example of how to expand your research on any company you find on the internet.

Verification is all about accurately assessing claims and statements. I took an article from The New York Times that claimed the average US household contains more than 300,000 items. Please read the (unpaywalled) article first. It’s about the sharing economy and a company renting out anything from expensive tools to expensive carpet cleaners — things one wouldn’t need daily.


We zoom in on the claim of 300,000 items. How was it determined? Is there a reliable source or study supporting this claim? And then we will look at the rental company featured in the NYT article. Should you trust their sales pitch?

verification online research guide twitter 300,000 items claim

Image: Screenshot, Twitter

Here are 12 verification tips, applied to this article, that will come in handy to examine any claim and spot any potential red flags that might call for further research.

1. Check the Details

How would you search for the claim of 300,000 items? “300,000 items” with a comma is common in English-speaking countries, while “300.000 items” with a period is typical in European countries. You will get a whole different set of outcomes if you search for the full phrase — with the comma you get a few hits, and with the period nothing is found.

online research guide claim

Image: Screenshot

Little details matter. Researching “hydraulic fracking” (often used by opponents) leads to different sources than “hydraulic fracturing” (used by the shale gas industry).

Take the spelling of just the name of a person. A different spelling leads to different results:

online research guide decuple

Image: Courtesy of Henk van Ess

Pay attention to language nuances, punctuation conventions, and variations, as they can greatly influence the outcome of research or the understanding of a particular topic.

2. Go from Macro to Micro

Back to the article. It says “average American household.” Online, that might be described differently. Additional sources may mention “typical households in the United States.” “Possesses” can also be expressed using alternative terms such as “has,” “owns,” or “holds.”

To explore different phrasings, it is advisable to start with broader search terms and gradually narrow down the focus.

If you want to find some variations for your phrase first, don’t use quotation marks yet. Google will create variations for you. Instead start with: average American household possesses over 300,000 items

Done? We see way more variations, like holds, contains, and are.

Other sources could say 300,000 things or 300,000 possessions. To allow any word to pop up after 300,000, use a placeholder for items, things, possessions with an asterisk, and add “OR 300,000 *” so your search phrase looks like: average American household possesses over 300,000 items OR “300,000*”

Now focus on locating the most relevant words that appear together in the same sentence, rather than scattered throughout the page.

By utilizing the AROUND(number) operator, you can instruct Google to search for words that are within five words or fewer of each other in the same sentence. I didn’t use any quotation marks here because it’s ok that Google comes up with synonyms.

online research guide search

Image: Screenshot

First, we learn that the claim has been around for awhile. It was already mentioned in 2014.

online research guide google search result

Image: Screenshot

But is that the oldest reference?

3. Time Machine

Go back in time with Google by utilizing its “time machine” feature. Click on Tools –> Any time –> Custom range.

online research guide dropdown menu

Image: Screenshot

Let’s find out if the claim was mentioned before 2020, the year the original New York Times article mentions. Put just 2020 into the TO filed (no need to type in a specific date, a year will do).

online research calendar

Image: Screenshot

There are no older references. Who made the claim that Americans are hoarders? It’s Regina Lark, a professional organizer.

When investigating breaking news, I often rely on this so-called time machine feature of Google. By entering relevant keywords related to the news event, I can retrieve numerous media-related search results. However, to delve deeper, I employ a custom date range search, going back one to four days before the event occurred. This approach can reveal information that extends beyond press coverage, providing a broader perspective. Additionally, I take it a step further by going back several years, incrementally, until the topic gradually loses prominence. This process helps me gauge the origin of the topic on the web and gain a comprehensive understanding.

4. Check and Double Check

Let’s find out if Regina Lark, the professional organizer, ever made the claim of “300,000 items” before, and if yes, where. For that, we need to know if she has an online presence. Type into Google: “regina lark” professional organizer, and it will lead to her website. Did she ever mention the number 300,000? Do this. Try to find the number 300,000 followed by any noun (= asterisk) on her website only.

online research clear path search

Image: Screenshot

Finally, we have identified Patient Zero. Lark says she “remembers reading” the number, but gives no source. The number is based on her memory only.

Who mentioned the article? Type in the full link into Google to find references.

online research Google result

Image: Screenshot

We find in this dissertation the same claim, an American household stores 300,000 items (Macvean, 2014; Boston Globe, 2017 Lark, 2020). But are these different sources? Lark provided the number to journalist Macvean (LA Times) in 2014, and the Boston Globe echoed it in 2017, while Lark documented her reflections in 2020. The collection of quotations may seem impressive, but, in truth, they originated from a sole source with a bad memory.

5. Contact the Source

Perhaps Lark does have a recollection. Reach out to the source and seek clarification.

online research clarification

Image: Screenshot

I never could confirm the source of the claim since Lark never responded to my inquiries, even after numerous tries.

6. Find Similar Claims

How likely is the claim? Try to find similar claims. Start simple with a phrase like: “biggest hoarder”

online research biggest hoarder

Image: Screenshot

Approximately 60,000 items are possessed by the largest known hoarder in the UK, although the accuracy of the calculations may be as questionable as 300,000 figure. As you study some of the other claims, you realize how arbitrary the number is: do you count paperclips and matches as well?

7. Find References

Let’s have a thorough look at the source of The New York Times. They didn’t mention Regina Lark as the source for the 300,000 items per household claim. The author says it’s taken from a book, The Longing for Less from Kyle Chayka.

The Longing for Less book cover

Image: Screenshot

I bought the book in the hope it would lead us to a new source. This is how the book backed up the claim: not at all.

average person possession

Image: Screenshot

No source was mentioned in the notes at the end of the book. In the original article, it said “The Longing for Less” was published in 2021. But whatever source you click after a quick search for the title, the publication date seems to be 2020.

This date was later corrected by the Times.

new york times blurb

Image: Screenshot, The New York Times

8. Use Reverse Image Search

The article also mentions Brevvie, a company that briefly rents everything. What can we find about them? Type straight into Google. Among the first results says that one of the company’s rental lockers is temporarily closed, according to a Google Maps entry at the time of our research. (Keep in mind this now may have changed.)

Brevvie company google business page

Image: Screenshot

If we were to look further, the question would arise “Is this an error or accurate?” Before we answer that, let’s zoom in on how to use Reverse Image Search.

Open and click on the camera icon. Now drag the photo from the Google Maps listing into Google Images.

Google Images

Image: Screenshot, Google Images

Go to on your desktop browser. Click on the camera icon. Choose one of the following options:

  • Paste image link: Use the URL of an image you found online.
  • Upload an image: Select an image from your hard drive.
  • Drag an image: Drag an image from another window.

Note: Some people prefer to search with keywords in combination with reverse image search in Google. Below you see an example that allows you to find the photo of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, only on websites from the UK.

This type of search is not possible anymore in the current version of Google Images. I built something to restore it.

Other reverse image searchers like Bing, Yandex, Baidu and Sogou work the same as Google. TinEye has the additional benefit that it shows “first found on.”

Reverse Image Search (Mobile)

Download the Google App on Android or iOS first.

Google provides two ways to process a photo reverse image search.

1. Using Built-in Recognition

  • Open the Google app on your mobile device.
  • Tap the Google Lens icon in the search bar at the top of the screen.
  • Take a photo or upload an image from your device.
  • Tap the search button to initiate a reverse image search.

2. Using the Camera

  • Open the Google app on your mobile device.
  • Tap the camera icon in the search bar at the top of the screen.
  • Take a photo or upload an image from your device.
  • Tap the search button to initiate a reverse image search.

Searching Images All at Once (Browser)

Only if you use the Chrome browser.

Search by Image – This extension allows you to perform a reverse image search on any image on a website. The browser extension supports Google, Bing, Yandex, Baidu, Sogou, TinEye, Shutterstock, and Alamy.

RevEye – This extension allows you to perform a reverse image search on any image on a website. You can choose from four image search engines: Google, Bing, Yandex, and TinEye.

Searching Images All at Once (Mobile)

With Reversee (search Android or Apple store on your mobile), you can search Google, Bing, Yandex, and Tineye at the same time.

Searching Images with AI Chat Bots

For now, only Google Bard supports this. Click on the plus sign and you can upload JPEG, PNG, or WebP image files. You can now ask all kinds of questions about the photo. This is NOT the same as reverse image search, as you can actually have a conversation about what you see with the bot. For example, this tweet:

CD image screenshot

Image: Screenshot, Twitter

You can ask the Google Bard chat bot more about the context.

online research guide CD images

Image: Screenshot

Back to our search. The Brevvie photo that comes up appears to be one of its rental box locations near the beach in southern California. This rental box is also mentioned on the company’s website. On August 15th, 2021, Brevvie announced its expansion of automated lockers at Huntington State Beach.

online research company location page

Image: Screenshot

9. Find Official Stuff

Is there any additional official information available online about the Brevvie lockers? Enter the company’s name and beach location, and search for “filetype:pdf” (which looks for Adobe PDF files, a format commonly used by authorities).

company google search result

Image: Screenshot

The search leads to the document “Active Business Licenses Report” for the city of Huntington Beach, California.

company business license page Huntington Beach California

Image: Screenshot

So, Brevvie still has an active business license in that city from 05/23/2023 to 04/30/2024, but it’s worth noting that the Huntington Beach locker site is no longer on the company’s list of locations. So that locker likely closed sometime in the past two years.


To narrow that date range, you can check to find an older version of the company’s location list. There, an archived page does mention the Huntington Beach “Sandbox” was still in use as of June 2023. But after that, it was removed. So, we could surmise that the location closed between early June and the end of August 2023 (when we first checked its status).

11. Exclude What You Know

Now exclude the company’s own website to learn more about it, but not from the company.

Brevvie company search exclusion

Image: Screenshot

One of the results from this search is a business profile on Brevvie, authored by co-founder Kristine Everly Smith in the California Business Journal. She was also a source — listed as just Kristine Everly — in the original New York Times article. Her current job, according to her LinkedIn profile, is not just Brevvie co-founder, but also “problem solver and connector.”

LinkedIn business profile

Image: Screenshot, LinkedIn

Given that Smith is listed as the co-founder of Brevvie and the presence of an email address with a mention of her on the website, a suitable question to ask would be: “As the co-founder of Brevvie, what is her current role in the company’s operations?”

Thanks to the brevvie search, we can also learn that the firm utilized a business incubator program at the University of California-Irvine. Using LinkedIn again, we can see that an associate professor at the school, Vibhanshu Abhishek, is also an advisory board member of the company, a not uncommon relationship among start-ups launched from universities. Abhishek, then, might be another good source to contact to learn more about the company or its origins.

12. Check Social Media

Next, you could navigate from the company’s website to its social media profiles. There, we find that the company Twitter account has just seven followers and hasn’t posted since June 2021.

Brevvie company Twitter profile page

Image: Screenshot, Twitter

But the company account has continued to “like” posts through the summer of 2023, including a July 3, 2023 post from the founder of a group called Students for Trump.

Brevvie Twitter Likes page

Image: Screenshot, Twitter

To find out more about contacting Brevvie, you’ll see that, like many businesses, it does not list an actual address on their website, just a cell phone number. Keep checking the social media accounts. Only when you check the rather active LinkedIn account, click on About and scroll down, will you find an address. Now, check this physical address.

company LinkedIn address page

Image: Screenshot, LinkedIn

However, a quick search reveals that 123 Brevvie Ave., Irvine, CA 92617 is a nonexistent address. When you click through the Get directions link on LinkedIn to take you to this address, the auto-completed address instead points to 123 California Ave, Irvine, CA, which appears to be on or adjacent to the UCI campus.

Brevvie headquarters location Google Maps

Image: Screenshot, Microsoft Bing

This could be a mistake or the result of some other miscommunication. The Microsoft Bing image of the address shows ongoing construction, which can affect street numbers and addresses. But visiting the company would likely require more digging or directly contacting them via the listed cell phone number.

Our investigations end here. What did we uncover with verification tools? Here is a summary of the key findings:

  1. The claim that the average American household owns over 300,000 items was mentioned in The New York Times and quoted from a book, but it was not the original source.
  1. The book does not provide a primary source in the footnotes.
  1. Through analysis of different phrasings and using placeholders, we found instances of the claim dating back to 2014.
  1. The claim originates from Regina Lark, a professional organizer, who shared the number 300,000 with a reporter. However, no additional sources or citations were found to support the claim.
  1. There was no specific source for the claim, as it was based solely on Lark’s recollection. We did contact her, but she never responded.
  1. Looking into similar claims, we discovered that the largest known hoarder in the UK possesses approximately 60,000 items, illustrating the arbitrary nature of such calculations.
  1. Fact-checking revealed that the book “The Longing for Less” was actually published in 2020, not 2021. The New York Times corrected this error, but the claim about the 300,000 items remained uncorrected after we contacted them.
  1. Further investigation of Brevvie, a company mentioned in the article, found some basic details about its operations and locations.. A Southern California outlet of the company was recently closed, although the permit for it is still valid through April 2024.
  1. Additional research indicated that Brevvie is a startup associated with faculty members from the University of California, Irvine.
  1. The company’s Twitter profile seemed mostly inactive, except for occasional likes, and the listed physical address was inaccurate.

The verification process discussed in this article offers valuable insights into fact-checking and uncovering the truth.

By moving from the big picture to the details, double checking these details, utilizing search operators effectively, utilizing time machine tools, scrutinizing sources, identifying similar claims, examining references, conducting reverse image searches, exploring social media profiles, and excluding what is already known, we can delve deeper into the reliability and credibility of information.

This systematic approach helps identify warning signs, question assertions, and seek trustworthy sources, ultimately fostering transparency and integrity in journalism and research.

GIJN welcomes reposts of this article for non-commercial use, but we ask that you follow our Creative Commons license agreement.

Henk van EssDutch-born Henk van Ess teaches, talks, and writes about open source intelligence with the help of the web and AI. The veteran guest lecturer and trainer travels around the world doing internet research workshops. His projects include Digital Digging (AI & research), Fact-Checking the Web, Handbook Datajournalism (free download), and speaking as a social media and web research specialist.

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