Reputation and Fingerspitzgefühl

posted by eric

Reading texts like “Manifesto for Reputation Soceity”, “Toward a Private Digital Economy” and re-reading the whuffie parts in “Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom” has made me think again about reputation. So many questions! Where to begin? Are we moving towards a sort of hyperreal version of Tönnies Gesellschaft, or a cyberspacified Weberian Iron Cage? Can we position all people on the one-and-only Great Reputation Graph, or are there in fact several over-layering, intersecting, and incommensurable systems of reputation? Is reputation portable? How to measure Halo?

We talked with Auren Hoffman (CEO, Rapleaf) about their rating service the other day. They want to break out the buyer-seller-rating component of eBay–a bold act that is not without problems (Oh no, the silos fight back!). After all, one of the most important preconditions for building reputation is context. Like Tom Dell’Aringa puts it in a comment: “I can honestly tell you that a Rapleaf score would mean zero to me in eBay. I don’t care about what some 3rd party rep system states about a person on eBay. I want to know what their rep is inside eBay!”

I have a hard time figuring out whether RapLeaf’s very Web2.0ish service (api:s, openness, componentization, you got it) is the right way to go in this case. I believe dealing with reputation takes some fingerspitzgefühl. This is a tip from the RapLeaf blog:

“Going on a date? Worried you’re on the Dontdatehimgirl website? Offset that! Send her an email with your RapLeaf badge in the signature. She’ll see that you’re a good guy.”

Wow, isn’t that like putting your credit rating in a love letter? Or am I getting something wrong? It reminds me of the story about the woman who wants to go partying with her friends. Her husband says: “I trust that you won’t cheat on me”. This story illustrates very well what happens when talk about trust gets to explicit. In this case the woman gets seriously offended–saying something like that is a clear sign of distrust. [My supervisor told me the story. I believe he found it in Lagerspetz]

A Colombian artist told me the flipside of this story yesterday. Some time ago she walked into a store–in a small village where she’d never been before–to buy some milk. When she wanted to pay she realized she didn’t have any money on her. The owner of the store immediately offered her credit. “How can you offer me credit when you don’t know me?” was the obvious question to ask. “I’d rather lose my money than my trust” was the owner’s swift reply.

A village, a marriage, a date, an eBay auction. Context seems important. Fingerspitzgefühl too.

[UPDATE: Noted that the part on the date quoted above has been removed from the blog post over at RapLeaf. Good move.]