Thursday, February 23, 2012

Trust Me, I'm @HamsterOfDoom

When an alias becomes a member of a teamspace, it brings no experience, no track record, no reputation within that context. Instead, a member's rep is accumulated over time as a result of constructive participation in the teamspace. If an alias becomes a member of more than one teamspace, its rep within each is independently earned and maintained. A member's reps in other teamspaces are publically visible to all members, but those other reps do not have influence across teamspace boundaries, except possibly as a consideration during the membership application process.

In a later post, I will begin to define what is meant by "constructive participation in a teamspace" by discussing some of the specific activities that can effect, positively or negatively, a member's rep. But before getting into the detailed mechanics of reputation transactions, let's first discuss the general goals and philosophy of the Ethosphere reputation mechanisms.

Within Ethosphere, and elsewhere on the Internet, anonymity is both a blessing and a curse. The ability to choose a handle like @HamsterOfDoom that does not divulge any private information about you and to choose different handles for different contexts are highly valuable, if not essential, features for navigating through the privacy minefield that is the Internet. On the other hand, if you are posting or commenting at, say, a political site as @HamsterOfDoom, your insights and opinions are valued no more or less than every other poster, whether you happen to be a pundit or a produce manager in real life. It all boils down to trust, or lack thereof. The basic goal of the rep mechanism in Ethosphere is to enable such trust relationships between pseudonymous members of a teamspace.

Obviously, you would tend to have more trust in another team member with whom you have personally had a history of constructive and beneficial (if not always agreeable) interaction. This is how you might come to trust, or at least identify another commenter on, say, the NY Times or Fox News web sites. Similarly, if you are following a Twitter user called @TomHanks, the only real way to be sure this is the real Hollywood actor/producer instead of a teenager from Cleveland or something, is to watch its tweets and build, over time, a trust relationship with that anonymous handle based solely on what it says online.

The rep mechanism provides a simple way to quantify this type of contextual trust and share it with others. In the Ethosphere, the question, "Who is this really?" will rarely come up. A member with a high rep is likely to be trusted, at least within the context of that teamspace, based on its cumulative interactions with many different members of the team. The member's identity in real life, whether she has a degree or a famous father or a big bank account, is irrelevant in Ethosphere. This may sound strange at first, because we have come to equate integrity with personal identity. But does it really matter so much if the tweets posted by some user named @BarackObama were physically typed by the President of the United States, instead of someone close enough to him to know his thoughts and activities? Moreover, if you are within a teamspace whose charter is to solve American national political problems, what really matters is how successful @BarackObama is proposing good solutions and driving consensus for those proposals. Whether that member is a political science professor, a meat market manager, or POTUS is completely irrelevant.

The Ethosphere is not only a meritocracy, it is also a simple economy and rep is its fundamental currency.

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