I’ve found myself stopping by Flemming Funch’s Ming’s Metalogue daily, and reliably find a useful post. Today he’s discussing reputation systems:
Alex Halavais talks about an experiment with a karma/reputation system in a class he was teaching. The idea being that one had a certain number of points, and one could give them to others for doing good deeds, according to a simple system. But people cheated and the system fell apart.
I’ve noticed myself that it is rather difficult to make a functional reputation system. There is one in NCN, where people mark others as being ‘acquaintances’, ‘friends’ or ‘comrades’, meaning that they’re somewhere on a scale between ‘I know them’ and ‘I would trust them with my life’. Some of the problems I’ve noticed are:
- People have different norms. Some people feel they trust everybody unconditionally.
- Many people feel obliged to be reciprocal, even if they don’t quite mean it.
- Some people try to have several virtual personalities, so they can give each other points.
- If there is a list of people’s reputation ratings as numeric values, ordered in descending numeric order, people change their behavior and get competitive about getting better numbers.
- If I made the system, and I’m first on the list, people get suspicious.
- People who are very active get high ratings.
- Some people end up hating reputation systems.
Aside from that, it works fairly well. I just think I need to get rid of the comparative listing.
Of course, Xpertweb is nothing more than a reputation system:
- Sellers deliver value for a proposed fee, say $100.
- The Buyer rates the seller 1-99% and adds a written comment.
- A grade above 85% receives $100
- A grade between 50-85% receives $50-85
- A grade below 50% is failing – no payment
- Grades are compiled into a reputation for the seller and the buyer.
- Mentors who train others who get good grades are well rewarded.
- Various mechanisms counter the foreseeable manipulation possibilities.
We’ve decided to just put the system in place rather than model it in a controlled environment. The reason: Grades must be dollar-denominated to mean anything. The only way to understand how something really works is just to do it.
Our work on Xpertweb has convinced me there are 4 problems with real-world reputation systems:
- People no longer work for a living. They hold jobs for a living, which pays better.
- People are incidentally loyal to a company, but deeply loyal to an accounting system.
- Accounting systems are designed to buy work cheap and sell it dear.
- Managers of accounting systems are hostile to exposing success or failure, whether within or outside of the organization.
Where programmers and bloggers take delight in finding bugs and celebrating quality, all organizations, like most people, are insecure. One study (can’t find it now) discovered that most high achievers are afraid they’ll be found out. Transparency exposes incompetence which is why any organization that manages an accounting system as its primary activity (is there any other kind?) cannot and will not support reputation-building. Only humans would consider such exposure and then only those highly qualified or motivated to do so.
We need an economy of people who solicit suggestions for improvement from customers and mentors. I guess we’ll just have to start small.
Flemming Funch has a series of entries on the subject of organization and they’re worth a look:
2002-12-19: Reputation Systems
2002-12-10: You can’t shut up a network
2002-12-04: Dynamic Facilitation
2002-12-02: Online Business Networks
2002-11-30: Power-law distributions on the web
2002-11-30: People Tour
2002-11-29: Compliance or Creation
2002-11-26: The State of Grace Document
2002-11-22: Fertile soil for group-forming