Dec 16

Andy Oram

Andy Oram

Reputation: where the personal and the participatory meet up (installment 4 of 4)

(Installment 1, installment 2, and installment 3 were published previously on Radar, and are still there with numerous comments. The entire article can be viewed on my web site.)

Economic motivations and economic effects

Bauwens pointed out that most online work, like other peer-generated information, is done by volunteers without financial remuneration. This is clearest in expressive communities such as YouTube. In commons-oriented production, such as Linux and Wikipedia, everyone derives a shared benefit without money exchanging hands. (Most Linux kernel hackers are now paid to do their work, but most companies who pay them don't get their investment back directly by selling Linux.)

Money becomes a factor in peer production when it gets integrated into a company's value chain, as with rankings or the kinds of user innovation networks researched by Eric von Hippel. Bauwens recognized that people will "cash in" their reputations at some point, but urged sites to try somehow to maintain some distance between the systems that solicit ratings and the material rewards for such ratings.

Kuraishi categorized rating relationships three ways, following psychologist Steven Pinker: authority ranking, rating to support exchange (as on eBay), and communal sharing (as on book or restaurant reviews).

William McGeveran of the University of Minnesota's Law School said that reputation and privacy used to be a top-down affair between the collector of information and the person being tracked. Rules get more complicated in an age of ratings and Facebook Beacon, where the collector uses the reputation of the individual to affect the decisions of third parties. Even people on social networks take advantage of others' reputation as they ask their friends for recommendations. The attempt to stretch reputation to support the reputation of other people or companies could lead to spam-like annoyances as well as privacy concerns.

Bob Sutor, VP of Open Source and Standards at IBM, pointed out that people's bad reputations can drag down the reputations of the things they rate. I'm not sure that's quite true, but would restate it to say that you don't benefit from being rated highly by people who lack high reputations themselves.

Rishab A. Ghosh of United Nations University's UNU-MERIT center picked up on the theme of unremunerated contributions. Peer-to-peer networks sharing free contributions lack the kinds of guidelines that pricing offers. Whereas pricing helps me decide where to put my time and energy in a market, I can't use pricing as a decision about what community to join or what open source project to work for. Reputation is critical for such peer projects. And even in exchanges involving money, reputation is important. In general, Ghosh said, "reputation captures the value about people that is not caught by markets" (pricing).

Ghosh does not expect reputation to be easy to measure and use online. Formal systems are always subject to abuse. For instance, vegetarians can downgrade the rating of a restaurant they've never stepped in because they disapprove of its selling meat. Ghosh trusts the more subjective reputation that we use in everyday life, both online and offline. We listen to our friends, our professors, our more experienced colleagues. If we like meat, we listen to other carnivores and go to the restaurants they like, ignoring the opinions of vegetarians.

Intellectual property restraints

As Tushnet said, intellectual property restrictions can act like a tourniquet to restrict the flow of information and innovative information uses. She displayed a couple typical LiveJournal pages and pointed that nearly everything people used to establish their identity and attract friends--pictures of movie scenes and cartoon characters, references to pop artists, etc.--represented someone else's intellectual property in some way. Our identities tend to be mash-ups, and yet they're what we used to seed our reputations.

Eric Goldman of Santa Clara University's School of Law laid out several ways companies try to keep other sites from discussing their products, such as copyrighting their product description texts and even their model numbers, and invoking trademark rights to take down poor reviews. He called for a few modest changes to current law to open up space for reputation sites:

  • A safe harbor against copyright and trademark suits for search engines that return results for exact matches on product information
  • A publisher exemption for people who provide information (this would prevent them from being penalized for the first infringing use, but allow them to be penalized for doing it again)
  • Another safe harbor for referential trademark uses on sites that are currently in danger of lawsuits because they accept ads or carry on other commercial activities

The vision of a Semantic Web tries to make everything searchable through metadata, but this very metadata may be encumbered by intellectual property. John Clippinger of the Berkman Center said, "Metadata is a control point."

A discussion of data sharing across social networks revealed that participants think attitudes are moving toward being more open, but that we haven't seen any change yet.

Where we're going

To appreciate how far society has come from earlier times (even before the invention of telecommunications and the Internet), a delightful exercise is to view the French film The Return of Martin Guerre. This film is closely (though not exactly) based on true events in the 16th century. It concerns a man named Martin Guerre who left his wife and home, but returned three years later to take up with his wife again and work for the family patriarch. When he started to demand a share of the family homestead, complaints began to be aired that he was an imposter. All sorts of odd facts and memories about Guerre were dredged up by people on both sides. Two trials took place to answer a question that nowadays could probably be solved by picking up the phone and calling a few government offices.

Even for someone like me who's been following the field of reputation for a while, Yale's Reputation Economies conference raised a lot of good new ideas. At a lunch break, Information Society Project organizers asked people with press passes a few reputation-related questions, which are related to a new initiative at Yale to set up a Law and Media program.

How do they decide whom to give a press pass to? Would it be useful to develop a code of ethics? If citizen journalists signed on to such a code, would it enhance their reputation?

Laura Denardis, incoming directory of the Information Society Project, laid out three types ways citizen journalists could be rated:

  • Self-assessment: signing a code of ethics
  • Feedback from their subjects: a bit like, people could turn around and rate the journalists who write about them
  • Peer-based review by other journalists

Some of us pointed out that reputation in journalism is built top-down as well as bottom-up. If you're banned from the White House, you can't build up a portfolio of articles about White House press conferences. Conversely, being allowed into this symposium allows me to prove I can write a compelling article about symposia and get myself invited to more.

O'Reilly Media is almost universally seen as the biggest reputation builder in our area of technology. Having this article published on the O'Reilly Network gives it much more credibility that circulating it as an anonymous email.

For many years we had it good at O'Reilly. To put it bluntly, we decided whose reputation to boost and who should have access to our readers. Our readers in turn trusted us (and obviously still do, to a large extent) to determine whom they should trust.

The burgeoning blogosphere, along with other forums for self-publishing books and smaller media items, threatens the gatekeeper role that O'Reilly built and that built us. As Bauwens said at the beginning of the symposium, "Institutions are faced now not only with individuals, but with self-organized peer groups."

O'Reilly is trying to preserve some of its centrality in the reputation economy of the tech world. We have long experience in doing this, luckily--for instance, our relationships with user groups is unparalleled. But the power relationships and channels for communication are undergoing wild shifts. We're learning to disentangle the elements of added quality in publishing from the elements of reputation gatekeeper, and over the next few years the shifts in reputation economies is going to change us as much as anyone.

tags: internet policy  | comments: 6   | Sphere It

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Comments: 6

  Thomas Lord [12.16.07 11:00 PM]

I was thinking about two things: (1) O'Reilley's awareness and thinking about its "central role" in reputation in our industry (of people, technologies, firms, etc.) (2) The "voice" I picked on topics like identity, reputation, O'Reilley's influence, etc. in comments on this blog and in related places. Oram's piece here has at least one small effect: I must change "voice."

"An inkblot," quoted and with with a comma, is the first thing on a new piece of paper.


  Thomas Lord [12.17.07 12:25 AM]

I have an evil thought to share:

Why do we build reputation-tracking systems? Why not, instead, build alliance-tracking systems?


  Thomas Lord [12.17.07 12:46 AM]

Let's see,

Instead of saying "I vote +1 that A rises to the level of Master Journeyman" we could vote:

+1 that A is trying to help B

+1 that A is trying to hurt B

We could add up all of those and get some crowd wisdom, no? Would that be prudent?


  thacker [12.17.07 06:21 AM]

Having read these installments over and over again, the conclusion at which I arrive is: attempts to do too much and to do it with naive and overblown perspectives with rationalization to explain away the naivety of such attempts.

The 'cream' that rises to the top is based solely upon consensus of any given group that performs the rating. That boils down to whether or not something blends into their logic, value system, whatnot.

Edmund Burke. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." O'Reilly quoted Burke not too long ago in one of his threads, I believe it was the Blogger Code of Conduct. Point: Burke never made such a quote. None of his published writings reflect anything remotely close. However, it has been attributed to him over the years by consensus. No harm in that. It is still a damn good quote and one that should be placed into practice more often than not.

J. Edgar Hoover was gay or, at least a cross-dresser. Hoover was neither. It is conjectured to have been one of the KGB's most widely successful disinformation campaigns. Point: Most people would rate a positive 'reputation' of such a statement that Hoover was gay. People chose to believe whatever they chose and place value accordingly.

Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. That consensus was made and a reputation assigned to it by a group of like minded people. Contrary information was discarded. [I wonder how many times the word "troll" was applied to those individuals who attempted to present contrary information and analysis.] Point: that failure precipitated a war.

Those above examples, from the so what to the sublime and then to catastrophic failure, are rating/evaluation/reputation systems that were based more upon human evaluation than upon any computer API or computer analysis, the last example, aside somewhat.

How can any computer model begin to rate the intangibles. How can it successfully evaluate what most people fail to do, e.g. ask themselves the hard questions, consider that what they believe may be wrong or at least wrong in a specific situation, acknowledge that they don't know the answer, etc? Point: it cannot and will not do something that human mind most often fails to understand. These are not linear issues. As Peter Drucker once said, "The computer is a moron."

The solutions: I do not know. What I do know is just how little I know. What I fear: a lot.

The biggest thing that I have drawn from these installments and the Yale conference is: stop treating people as idiots and allow them to draw their own conclusions independently, e.g. opt-in vs opt-out. The second largest points are, and always seems to be in most things, proceed with extreme caution, apply extensive thought and always consider how failure will infiltrate the process, e.g. how will someone bastardize the process or how the process will be used in a detrimental manner.

Again, it is not the data. It is in its use and application.

  Thomas Lord [12.17.07 06:43 PM]

I'm pretty sure J. Edgar was a perv.

So, it's dumb if people say "oh, he was TV or TG or Gay" because, no.... preponderance of the evidence is just that he was a bit of a perv, no? No reason to blame it on any particular group. (And, aren't we all (pervs), really, but, at the end of the day there's irony in his case.)


  thacker [12.17.07 08:58 PM]


Was Hoover perverted? That is something, also, open to conjecture. Did Hoover pervert things? Undeniably. And in that context and this strange Web, [if am interpretting you correctly, there is definite irony in Hoover's perversions in how it applies to this thread.] caution and thought should be the order of the day.

:::skipping off in my pink tutu, pink fuzzy slippers, mickey mouse hat, munching on a cigar and sipping scotch:::

Damn it. I forgot about the open data stuff, reputation ratings and such things. Oh, well.

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