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.