Facets of Facets, Tagclouds And Trust

posted by eric

A walk in Marin County with Howard Rheingold and his dog resulted in an invitation to present Trustmojo at a FutureCommons meeting at Institute For The Future. One of the topics we discussed during- and after our talk was the role of tags in trustbuilding. In the talk I showed how I discovered researchers on del.icio.us and judged them by their tagclouds.

tagCard.jpgAs we develop a literacy for tagclouds, they let us peek inside a person’s mind. We get more out of these clouds than just an idea of a person’s reading- and classifying habits. Tagclouds are inspiring. They contain hints. Those hints get our minds going.

My del.icio.us feed is just one facet of my online identity. Tags then, could be though of as facets of this facet. On one interpretation, the most common tags in my cloud show what community I belong to, whereas the tail of niche tags convey my distinct identity. Fred Stutzman (Founder of ClaimID) seems to have browsed a lot of tagclouds recently. He argues that “[people's] tagclouds shows [him] more about them than [he] ever gets from a homepage, blog or social network profile”. He also talks about “reading” del.icio.us tagclouds:

At the top will be [a person's] “internet identity”, more or less. You might see a ton of clustered links to programming websites, or business/marketing blog posts, and so on. As you scale down the tagcloud, and you get into the tags that are used 1 or 2 or 3 times, you start to notice different things. You may see links to a sports team in which the person participates, or a small cluster of links to a hobby or a charity. You might see travel information, or a link to a church or family member’s webpage. As the explorer, you have to explicate what is what, but I’ve found it becomes quite easy to do this as you do it over and over.

Just before our talk, Marc Dangeard, who was attending the meeting, happened to give me his business card. Incidentally, he had his del.icio.us tagcloud printed on the back of the card.

Perhaps the most important reason to give someone your business card is to convey trustworthiness. Trust research show that openness has a strong connection to trustworthiness. Tagclouds let us take a peek inside someone’s mind. Seen in this light, putting your tagcloud on your business card makes perfect sense.

“Can I trust Wikipedia?”

posted by eric

I hear many people today ask whether they can “trust Wikipedia”. Often they contrast Wikipedia with encyclopedias written by professionals, often they complain about the quality of certain articles, and often I have the feeling they simply don’t get it.

Thinking about this, I’ve come to realize that there’s no simple answer to the question posed in the title of this post, and I’d like to explain why. First, however, I’ll need to talk briefly about trust.

Trust is something perceived. There is no individual or institution that intrinsically “has trust”. Someone can be trustworthy, a source can be credible, a system can be predictable–but it’s up to you to decide whether to trust the person, source, or system in question. Another important property of trust is that it takes time to build–and it can be lost in a split second.

A look at society reveals a vast amount of overlaying and intersecting institutions–many of which are created to deal with issues of trust. Broadly spoken, these institutions serve to abstract the mechanisms for building trust away from the basic “face-to-face” level to a level that works on a larger scale. By doing so, these institutions bring stability in a specific context–whether it’s a market, a currency, or a physical space.

In game theory, the prisoner’s dilemma illustrates what happens in a situation where there’s no way for different parties to establish a trust relationship prior to a transaction. Since there’s too great a risk in trusting, each party chooses not to trust, which leads to a total payoff that is lower than it would have been if both parties had trusted each other. This problem is generally referred to as a social dilemma.

Now, as Howard Rheingold argues in a recent talk on the future of collaboration (don’t mind the techno, it’s an interesting talk!), a major challenge for institutions of the kind mentioned above is to turn the prisoner’s dilemma game into a something called an assurance game (also known as a stag hunt). The key is to develop mechanisms for establishing trust relations between actors in a system, so that they can start doing transactions based on trust, which in turn increases the total size of the pie. Institutions, seen from this perspective, present solutions to social dilemmas.

So, how is this relevant to the question of whether one can trust Wikipedia?

Because Wikipedia–just as its older counterparts–is an institution. But Wikipedia presents a new solution to a specific social dilemma on an unprecedentedly large scale.

One could argue that Wikipedia is still an encyclopedia. But its organizational principles are so different from those of its traditional counterparts that we have to adopt a whole new mindset in order to even begin developing trust in it. Consider Chris Anderson’s answer to whether one can trust Wikipedia:

“The answer is not a simple yes or no, because it is the nature of user-created content to be as messy and uncertain at the microscale, which is the level at which we usually expercience it, as it is amazingly successful at the big-picture macroscale. It just has to be understood for what it is.” [From the The Long Tail]

It gets more complicated still. The trust I’ve got in the institution Encyclopedia Britannica is not identical to the trust I’ve developed in the institution Wikipedia with its NPOV, its Benevolent Dictator, and its Long Tail of diff-checking contributors. Wikipedia is different, it’s a new game, it constitutes a novel paradigm. It will take time for the institution Wikipedia to build trust with its users–and comparing that trust with the trust people have in other encyclopedias might in the end make little sense!

And so it looks as if at this point, the only reasonable answer I can give to the question of whether you can trust Wikipedia or not, is a very definite “Probably”.