For this week’s ITConversations podcast I asked Phil Windley to review the work he’s done — with several groups of his students — to develop a software framework for managing online reputation. Phil explains:
Reputation is a very personal thing. The way you think about a person we both know in common, and the way I think about that person, is different. We talk about Joe having a reputation, but in fact, Joe doesn’t have a reputation, every single person has a different feeling and way of thinking about Joe. Reputation is your story about me. I don’t control my reputation, I only control some factors that you might or might not use to calculate it. I don’t control all of them, and you may take factors into account that I have no control over.
If we’re going to bring that social system, developed over thousands of years, to the Net, we need to mimic that opportunity as closely as possible. So the idea of our rules language was to allow you to create your own algorithms abouthow you determine the reputation of something or someone, and to allow me to create a different one.
Of course, if my calculations about Joe and your calculations about Joe refer to the same public, or omnidirectional, digital identity, then they can be merged. And by referring to my digital identity and yours, somebody else will be able to aggregate our calculations about Joe, and propagate them transitively.
That scenario entails both risks and benefits. At the moment, it’s easier for most people to imagine the risks. Phil says:
Offline we all give up information about ourselves all the time, trading privacy for convenience, and we have a pretty good feel for how that information is compartmentalized — not always, and there are obvious problems — but if I tell somebody in one business my name, that won’t mean the business down the street finds out about my transactions. Online, all of those intuitions have been switched around, and we’ve come to believe that giving up as little information as possible is the right thing.
The phrase “giving up information” has a negative connatation. We haven’t yet established norms for “declaring information” in a positive sense, and we have no intuitions about the benefits that doing so might yield. But we may find that by declaring information about ourselves, we can help make the stories that are being told about us — whether we participate in them or not — truer and more useful.