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.