Online reputation systems


On Friday, I had a phone conversation with Jim Valentine (@jarowdowsky) where he described the failure of a reputation system he’d seen on an image sharing website. As soon as he’d registered to the website, he received a deluge  of emails from other members saying: ‘like my image, like my image’. The smell of desperation was rancid. This was not genuine human interaction – or one person doing a favour for another based on admiration for their photos. This was a spamtastic approach to getting kudos online.


Fast forward to Monday and I’m searching for some information on group dynamics in online communities and I stumble across an article by Clay Shirky about designing for groups online. Here are some of his musings on reputation systems:

“If you were going to build a piece of social software to support large and long-lived groups, what would you design for? The first thing you would design for is handles the user can invest in.

Now, I say “handles,” because I don’t want to say “identity,” because identity has suddenly become one of those ideas where, when you pull on the little thread you want, this big bag of stuff comes along with it. Identity is such a hot-button issue now, but for the lightweight stuff required for social software, its really just a handle that matters.

It’s pretty widely understood that anonymity doesn’t work well in group settings, because “who said what when” is the minimum requirement for having a conversation. What’s less well understood is that weak pseudonymity doesn’t work well, either. Because I need to associate who’s saying something to me now with previous conversations.

The world’s best reputation management system is right here, in the brain. And actually, it’s right here, in the back, in the emotional part of the brain. Almost all the work being done on reputation systems today is either trivial or useless or both, because reputations aren’t linearizable, and they’re not portable.

There are people who cheat on their spouse but not at cards, and vice versa, and both and neither. Reputation is not necessarily portable from one situation to another, and it’s not easily expressed.

eBay has done us all an enormous disservice, because eBay works in non-iterated atomic transactions, which are the opposite of social situations. eBay’s reputation system works incredibly well, because it starts with a linearizable transaction — “How much money for how many Smurfs?” — and turns that into a metric that’s equally linear.

That doesn’t work well in social situations. If you want a good reputation system, just let me remember who you are. And if you do me a favor, I’ll remember it. And I won’t store it in the front of my brain, I’ll store it here, in the back. I’ll just get a good feeling next time I get email from you; I won’t even remember why. And if you do me a disservice and I get email from you, my temples will start to throb, and I won’t even remember why. If you give users a way of remembering one another, reputation will happen, and that requires nothing more than simple and somewhat persistent handles.”

This comes from here.



E-learning and Digital Cultures: Week One


It pleases me to announce that I’ve found myself taking part in a MOOC at the start of 2013. The last time I smiled at such an acronym was when I discovered the meaning of RSS. Unless I’ve fallen upon someone taking the mickey, then MOOC stands for ‘Massive Online Open Course’. Yes! This is much easier to remember than MOODLE – the e-learning acronym for the software we use at the charity I work for, YouthNet. That one is ‘Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.’ And if you’re wondering, I did have to look it up again for the millionth time before typing it into this blog post.

Week one of the course is about dytopias and utopias created through technology and the materials we’re considering at this stage are films that depict them. The first film that sprung to my mind was Gattaca – I remember watching it at a film festival in Dundedin, New Zealand back in 2000 (Interestingly, the country that feels closest to my personal Utopia to date) where David Bellamy talked about the implications of such a world. In very simple terms, this certainly demonstrates how a perceive utopia for some, is a dystopia for others.

As I’m pretty tired, and I’m spending the evening of my birthday after a working day trying to improve my brain, I figured that there was bound to be others out there in this glorious internet who would sum up the utopia and dystopia of Gattaca quite brilliantly. And this is what I found:

GATTACA is a capitalist dystopia, to apply a broad term. In many ways it could be a utopian world: most people are genetically engineered to be born with no diseases, no afflictions, or tendencies towards disabilities; science and space travel seem to have more of a future in the GATTACA world, as Irene says in the film, “There must be a dozen launches every day,” as she stands next to Jerome at the GATTACA center, watching the rocket ships roar upwards. He replies, “Sometimes more.” Cars are electrically powered, and it seems that the world envisioned by Andrew Niccol is shiny, scientific, and antiseptic. Yet it is also a dystopia. A perfect world it is, yet only perfect for those who are genetically gifted. People’s success in the world of GATTACA depends not on their resumes and credentials, but a blood test or urine test.

I found the gems above in a blog called Exploring Dystopia  edited and designed by Niclas Hermansson.

So, now I must think a bit more for myself… I’m pretty sure that Cat Fish, would be another example of a Dystopia caused by technology – but I’m not sure, is this a bit leftfield? Or is it too close to reality to be seen in these terms? Catfish depicts an extreme example of a young man being lured into the fantasy existence of a woman who creates multiple characters online. Just this morning I read that they’ve furthered the original themes in the film to create a series – something I’ll definitely be interested in checking out. I was so struck by the original theme, that I ended up writing a poem about the phenomenon of people trying to ignore issues in offline relationships through the distraction of online ones. Thinking about it more, there is definitely an element of Utopia here too. The woman in Catfish who pretends to be different people to impress her potential young lover was actually really content in her fake world. As long as she could keep the dream alive. She was so immersed in her web of lies (no pun intended) that she had started to believe it was real and felt fulfilled to live in this version of her world.

I’ve noticed that a couple of people on the (MASSIVE) course have mentioned that identifying more explicit utopias is more tricky – I like the example of the Truman Show here and @astburyp tweeted: “Isn’t the entire Stark Trek Franchise based on a Utopian Ideal of human nature?” I’m determined to identify my own example now, but I admit I’m struggling a bit. So I’ll stop here, pleased to have got the cogs turning a bit at least.