The Reputation Economy

Via Fin Review’s BOSS Magazine: The Reputation Economy by Rachel Botsman

This article looked at peer-to-peer reputation systems like how ebay feedback and online trust works.

Ratings and reviews built upon the opinions of millions of users (“the wisdom of crowds”) are increasingly influencing our consumer behaviours.  …Over the past 20 years, we have literally wired our world to share, creating unbounded marketplace for exchanges between producer and consumer, seller and buyer, lender and borrower, and neighbour to neighbour.  The old consumer world created a layered interface – otherwise known as the middlemen- between the company and consumer, bridging the gap between production and consumption. But the internet is removing the middlemen.

I found it interesting as I’ve been looking at this type of stuff, as a way to look at online design collaborations, community building and building urban design networks.  I think there are social dynamics happening online that can offer key lessons but I still struggle a bit with the online/offline balance.

Urban planning and government definitely seems to comes from that “old consumer space” where there is a middleman.  Most professional and service industries (like design) actually thrive on the idea we need a middlemen.  Someone once joked to me how urban planners (like lawyers) create jobs for ourselves by making complex systems that then need people/middlemen to decipher them.

As much as I see the advantages of how the internet removes or becomes the “middleman” in design collaboration, I recently struggle to think if it will/could/should ever replace it all.  I have concluded that it might be kind of like online shopping and how it good but it won’t take away the physicality or value of shopping stores.

I also feel like in such a disorganised, complex and at times lazy world sometimes you need a committed middleman to run projects and make choices.  We still need leaders. In the book “Making Ideas Happen” one of the key ingredients that stops implementation of cool ideas is the organisation and coordination needed to take action.    This facilitation role I see as especially important and powerful for planners and designers, and at times might be overlooked or not taught.   The ability to ‘bridge’ and ‘connect’ is the most valuable thing I think we can do at times to implement ideas.  I feel at times it is my only role, and ‘joining the dots’ seems like a natural thing for me to do.

The article goes on to give 10 great issues to consider when designing peer-to-peer reputation systems

  1. Unforgivable behaviour.  Identify good behaviour that the mechanism needs to encourage and vice versa
  2. Decipher.  There might be a gap between what people care about in building trust.  Test your system
  3. Competition.  We are innately wired to be on top of the table.  Present user rankings to create healthy competition
  4. Quality. Celebrate and reward users who give feedback
  5. Signal.  Make it clear what people are rating
  6. Sticky ratings.  Pick a system (stars, ticks, numbers)
  7. Trust dimensions.  People build trust in different ways.  Offer other ways for people to share qualitaive feedback and reveal something meaningful about them (profiles)
  8. People like me.  We like tyo know what friends think of other people.  Build in “inner circle” vouching mechanisms
  9. Peer police.  Organisation still need to offer support and resolve disputes
  10. Mirror reality.  The ultimate goal is a system  to virtually replicate the trust we form face to face.   Mirror questions and dynamics we use in physical reality.

#10.   That’s the thing… the clincher with #10.
Can we? Should we? Is it even possible to mirror physical reality?  Do we even want to?

Perhaps it is the part of me recently jaded by digital interactions, makes me think not.  Reflecting personally and in the realm of city making, human relationships are too complex for that.

Trust and reputation is huge part of design collaboration. I think you need it to like and work productively with anyone.  In the realm of city making, I feel that most frustrations come from deep levels of distrust (especially with process and government).  I’ve been learning in personal relationships, trust is also a 2 way street – and sometimes it means taking a risk and giving honesty and trust first to others.  This might mean governments, politicians, and designers give up control  to communities, giving them the trust that “they know best”.  For all stakeholders, that’s probably what makes collaboration or any relationship so tough  – it is the letting go of ego and to be open enough to trust.


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