A Manifesto for the Reputation Society: it’s coming soon!

August 10th, 2009 / 08:08 by Ross Dawson

One of the key themes at Future of Influence Summit 2009 on August 31 / September 1 will be the emergence of the ‘reputation economy’, and how value is being created in that space.

Howard Rheingold, who has been deeply involved in this space since the 1980s, and has demonstrated his prescience by writing – among others books – Virtual Reality in 1991 and Smart Mobs in 2002, will be doing a keynote at the conference.

In our recent conversation about influence and reputation Howard mentioned the 2004 article Manifesto for a Reputation Society, which appeared in First Monday. I saw this a number of years ago but had forgotten it. It is in fact a great overview of where reputation may go. The abstract reads:

Information overload, challenges of evaluating quality, and the opportunity to benefit from experiences of others have spurred the development of reputation systems. Most Internet sites which mediate between large numbers of people use some form of reputation mechanism: Slashdot, eBay, ePinions, Amazon, and Google all make use of collaborative filtering, recommender systems, or shared judgements of quality.

But we suggest the potential utility of reputation services is far greater, touching nearly every aspect of society. By leveraging our limited and local human judgement power with collective networked filtering, it is possible to promote an interconnected ecology of socially beneficial reputation systems — to restrain the baser side of human nature, while unleashing positive social changes and enabling the realization of ever higher goals.

In its opening comments the article goes on:

Most social interactions require matching human needs on the one hand, and quality or taste on the other hand: hunting for a reliable mechanic, looking for an interesting book, sifting through potential investments, judging the merits of proposed policies. Drawing from a distributed pool of reputations has the potential to ease the search for opportunities, ideas, friendships, cultural goods, and high–quality services; hand in hand, pressure will increase for honest behavior, competence, and fulfilling subtle human needs. At the same time, more efficient tagging of con artists, sources of spam, untrue claims, and dishonest actions can better sanction antisocial behavior, for the most part in a bottom–up “distributed court of opinion.”

It later mentions some of the early reputation systems that have been implemented online, including Amazon, eBay, Slashdot, Google, and ePinions.

Today these systems have evolved, a number of explicit reputation platforms (some in specific domains) such as Rapleaf, Naymz, Wikio, and Twitter Grader have emerged, and there are a variety of more comprehensive reputation systems under development (including our start-up Repyoot).

Where will this go? Cory Doctorow’s science fiction novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom depicts a world in which “Whuffie” is the measure of an individual’s reputation, available real-time as they do good and bad things.

How we get from here to there is still highly uncertain, not least because any reputation system will be gamed. However the value of an effective reputation system is extremely high, not least in reducing transaction costs and making the global economy far more fluid.

At Future of Influence Summit we will look at, among other issues, where value is being created in the reputation economy today, and how to tap that.