Stalking The Predators

posted by alex

Eric and I are currently down at the disneyland of the tech world–Google. We are just about to check out a techtalk by Will Wright on Spore but I thought I’d post a few reflections that surfaced during yesterday’s meeting with Professor BJ Fogg and David Danielsson from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

We were talking about establishing online trust when BJ had this interesting idea for a slightly unorthodox case study approach. Instead of trying to look at desirable mechanics of trust online (how trust can enhance the online experience) we could flip the whole concept around and learn about the same things by looking at the people who maliciously deal with establishing trust as a profession–I am, of course, talking about the predators.

Predators are probably the most well-educated in the mechanics of establishing trust online since their whole agenda deeply depends on it. Myspace predators constantly seek to establish trust as fast as possible and are sure to know the ins and outs of trust-enhancing social interaction within that system. To exploit a system, technical or social, you really have to know how to “work it”.

Now, what I have been thinking about is how to get in contact with serious predators and get insight into their tactics and views on their “work”. One idea I had after talking to Mike Micucci, CEO of TN20 and hearing about his problems concerning the scam-proposals put forward to him when selling his car on eBay would be to create an online potential victim. I could create a fake ad for an expensive car, add a made-up person to Myspace, enter a non-existing CEO on LinkedIn and then wait for scammers to contact me. Once contact has been established I could “come clean”, explain the research and try to start a conversation with the intention of getting their comments on trust. Am I being naive in thinking this might yield some results?

Yet, on the other hand, the whole idea of faking identities and ads makes me feel slightly uneasy. Is this an ethical way of finding interview subjects? Is it safe? Let me know what you think!

The Long Tail of Trust

posted by eric

I just finished Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. Some thoughts: Links on the web are essentially a way to redirect attention in a very fluid way, hence the web with its multiple social layers is an enabling infrastructure for an emerging, full-fledged attention economy.
That much is clear, but what drives the clicking? What exactly shapes peoples clickstreams on the micro level? I think a significant driver is trust in various forms. Think about it: Almost each and every little cognitive process that forgoes a click is actually about evaluating trustworthiness, solving a mini trust dilemma if you will. Some links need almost no evaluation at all, whereas others need a lot more.

At any given time we are positioned somewhere on a long tail, surfing up- or downwards. Our attention wanders along the myriad of mini tails of long tails. In our excursion, we put our trust in algorithms, people and institutions.

It seems that trust, in various shapes, plays a part at virtually all levels of long tail markets. The key to making these markets work is to make them accessible to consumers. At least 99 per cent of the music in the product tail of a music store are not going to be interesting to a particular music consumer, and hence needs to be filtered out in some way. One could argue that the most effective filters of this kind today are trust driven. This is especially true when there is no significant head to drive demand down the tail.

What do I mean by that? I’ll let Chris Anderson explain. He contrasts the failure of MP3.com with the success of iTunes Music Store in the chapter entitled “The Short Head”. A key factor in the success of ITMS, he argues, is that the store’s long tail of music has a solid head (all the major labels) to serve as a sort of foundation for the tail. ITMS thus provides consumers with familiar points of entry in the form of artists and labels they know.

From a “trustoconomy” perspective however, myspace is far more interesting than ITMS, since it solves the problem that brought down MP3.com. It enables a long tail market with a much less significant head to function through a trust-driven social network. Users travel the tail in a serendipitous wander guided by trusted peers and niche authorities, rather than by mainstream musical “heads”. Last.fm works in a similar way, although with less focus on people and more on algorithms.

So does this mean that the future online music store should be a social network? I think it does–and the key is leveraging The Long Tail of Trust.