What Is Trust?

posted by eric

The deeper we dive into this study, the more we realize how vague the term “trust” really is. It becomes especially evident as soon as one starts to study a particular trust-related phenomenon (such as buyer-seller trust in online marketplaces). One quickly realizes that “trust” is often a much too general term to use–it is commonly used as a “catch-all” for more specific concepts. There’s clearly a problem of “semantic discrepancies” in the current discourse (but then again, that seems to be the issue in almost any hot enough discourse).

Trust, at least seen pragmatically, can be broken down into more precise concepts such as reputation, credibility, predictability, and consistency. The credibility people at Stanford have done a fairly good job of distinguishing credibility from trust, whereas Seligman tries to separate out “simple” predictability from trust. Many more similar efforts can be found in the literature. We’ll dig more deeply into these semantic issues within the next few days.

In the meantime, here’s an independent study commissioned by Rapleaf on online marketplaces that concludes that “posted ratings are the most important factor in determining their level of trust in sellers” (my emphasis). We hope to do an interview with the Rapleaf guys soon. Their plan is to make an eBay-like reputation system available through open API:s, in essence creating a global, open reputation system. I really think it’s about time, but it remains to be seen how well they can solve the obvious fraud problems

UPDATE: Here are the full details of the study.

July 20th, 2006

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