Chat with Mike Micucci of TN20

posted by eric

Yesterday Alex and I met up with Mike Micucci, CEO of TN20, a hot 7-person startup in the online community space. They’re working on a new service for existing special-interest groups in diverse areas such as child care and mountainbiking. One of the key elements of their business is to leverage the intrinsic trust already existing within these groups. “There’s a high level of trust in these communities, mainly due to the fact that they generally have some barrier to entry, and this trust leads to a much higher level of quality in the content being produced. We leverage the intrinsic trust that’s already in place, rather than trying to build it from scratch” says Mike.

In the past few months, Mike and his colleagues have been working on collaborative filtering and trust metrics algorithms for getting the most valuable and truthful information out of these communities. They’ve been working closely with several communities for a long time, continuously doing focus groups and prototype testing–often scrapping features and re-doing parts of the software after new input has been received.

“We’re just in the beginning” when it comes to understanding trust as it relates to building online forums, institutions, marketplaces or virtual spaces, says Mike, “The current systems need to be greatly improved”. He tells us about his recent experience with selling a car over the web. “On Craigslist, I had five scams out of seven replies”, he says, “I ended up selling over eBay although I had major problems there as well.

So according to Mike, even though eBay “works”, we have ways to go. Understanding how trust works, and how it can be built online, is key.

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!