Down and Out in Pixels and Logic

The idea of online reputation is familiar to anyone who has used Amazon, eBay, or other websites featuring a virtual marketplace. Most users of these sites place at least some weight on this reputation when choosing a vendor. However, the idea that online reputation can acquire sufficient value that it can be used instead of money can come as a surprise. In her talk to TED Rachel Botsman describes how reputation capital is already emerging:

Until we move into a post monetary economy – if we ever do – it is difficult to say what it might look like. However Cory Doctorow‘s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom provides one plausible picture of the benefits and problems with a reputation economy.

An obvious obstacle to both implementation and use, as Botsman highlights, is those who do not have a large online presence. With an upsurge in articles about how we are vulnerable to attack due to being too open on the internet, this group might well increase in size. Obviously this goes to the heart of the feasibility of reputation capital as a panacea for inequality, and the same issues need to be discussed (albeit in a different guise) as leveraging old boys networks.

However I believe another issue that Botsman touches, that of applying existing reputation to new endeavours, is a more insidious issue. She warns of the risk of assuming someone who is a good host will be a good bookseller; I am more concerned with her implicit assumption that they will not be. In my experience the people I trust have qualities of character not skills. I value a recommendation that highlights self-awareness, generosity, and honesty over technical skill as a virtuous person is likely to offer a reasonably accurate assessment of their ability and will certainly be driven to rectify mistakes without the defensiveness of an expert challenged by an outsider.

Fortunately many skilled people also have a virtuous soul. However, if we are to move toward a reputation based economy we must make sure it places value not on whether someone has been a good bookseller in the past but rather whether they are the type of person who would put themselves forward as a bookseller without seeking to be good at it.

Do you already use a trust based economy? Do you think that a reputation for skill is more important than that for willingness when contracting for piece work?


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