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In the Future We’ll All Have Online Reputation Scores


In a recent interview with EMC’s Stu Miniman about the future of the web, I predicted that in 20 years, we’ll all have online reputation scores. Little badges, numbers that communicate our level of authority, this sort of thing. And these reputations will have tangible impact.

Three different trends come together at some point in the future to make this happen. These trends have been underway for a while, but come together at some tipping point in the years ahead. Here’s a visualization of the trends:

It’s helpful to discuss each one, in the context of online reputations.

Rate performance of businesses

eBay, which went public back in 1998, played an important role in socializing the concept of people providing online ratings for online sellers. After we receive our purchase, we rate the seller. The collective wisdom identifies top sellers. Got your eye in that Donkey Kong game? Who are you most likely to trust…?

Amazon picked up on this, once it introduced third party sellers into the mix. You can see the percentage of positive ratings for the different sellers. Personally, I have paid premiums (i.e. higher prices) for the assurance that comes from a higher rated seller.

Yelp has taken this concept of rating a seller, and applied to offline consumer experiences. Want to get a burrito in San Francisco? You’re likely to go with the highest rated restaurants.

These ratings make up for our lack of information about various providers of services. One could do a lot of online research, and asking friends, before buying. But these ratings do quite well as shorthand ways of assessing quality. They’ve made it easy to transact, without knowing someone ahead of time.

The rating ethos is expanding. On Facebook, you can ‘like’ people’s entries. We ‘love’ music on Last.fm. We ‘favorite’ tweets. We ‘digg’ and ‘buzz up’ stories. Implicitly, we provide ratings when we share content via different social networks. Online engagement allows for this.

Migration of transparent work and information online

I found this recent Kaiser Family Foundation study fascinating. The amount of time kids spend online – smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device – is now at an all-time high. There’s no denying this: future workers are going to be more accustomed to online engagement and information-seeking than any generation before. It’s their lifestyle:

More generally, an important distinction from the web of the 1990s and early 2000s is that we aren’t just reading and transacting. Individuals are providing the content. More every day, in fact. We have transferred some of the engagement and contributions from the offline world online. Actually, we’re probably creating more content than we ever have,

For workers, the growth of Enterprise 2.0 continues. A key outcome of that? More and more work is making its way online. When it’s available there, and not just in a Word document on the hard drive or email in an inbox, it’s findable and usable by everyone.Your colleagues know quite well what the quality of your work and contributions are.

Do you think all of this stops, and we go back to message-relaying marathoners, smoke signals and carrier pigeons? No. Enterprise 2.0 and social media will continue their growth apace. And increasingly, this time spent online is through social media.

More and more people will be publishing their work, their ideas, their knowledge, their conversational bits, their creativity…online. It’s just going to keep increasing.

Rely on social media for information

An emerging trend is the transition of where we seek information. Remember libraries, magazines and microfiche? Then the 1.0 websites where we got information? Then the portals that aggregated information from major media sites? Then search augmented all this information consumption?

Well, the next wave is to rely on our social connections to deliver interesting, relevant information to us. As was famously said by a college student in 2008:

If the news is important, it will find me.

A recent Nielsen study confirms this growing tendency to use social media as a first stop to find information:

Admittedly, the leading social sites of today – blogs, Facebook, Twitter – have a ways to go before they become a large percentage of the population’s first choice. And it’d help if Twitter could get their search working further back than a week or two.

But this survey and anecdotal evidence points toward an increased reliance on others to provide information to us.

Putting this all together

It’s that last trend, still early in its cycle, that really points toward the development of formal, online reputations. When we started transacting online with complete strangers or small businesses we never knew, we needed a basis for understanding their credibility. It turns out, crowdsourced ratings are excellent indicators of quality. It also causes small businesses to be aware of the quality of their products and services.

In the years ahead, expect increased usage of social media for getting information and sourcing people, products and services. As an example, research firm IDC just released these survey results:

57% of U.S. workers use social media for business purposes at least once per week. The number one reason cited by U.S. workers for using social tools for business purposes was to acquire knowledge and ask questions from a community.

As reliance on people for information increases, expect an increased need for knowing which strangers provide the top quality information. Note I said “strangers” there. One thing we will continue to do is to rely on our “friends” (social media sense of the word) for ongoing daily information. The people we connect with on the various social sites.

But that’s the only way we will get information. Or make decisions. Great case in point? Google’s real-time search results:

If innovation is the focus of your work, wouldn’t you want to be include in those Google results? Here’s the thing. Google doesn’t just put any old tweet or other form of real-time content in there. As Google’s Amit Singhal stated:

“You earn reputation, and then you give reputation. If lots of people follow you, and then you follow someone–then even though this [new person] does not have lots of followers,” his tweet is deemed valuable because his followers are themselves followed widely, Singhal says. It is “definitely, definitely” more than a popularity contest, he adds.

Note his words: “You earn reputation“.

PR agency Edelman created a ranking algorithm called Tweetlevel, which analyzes people on the basis of influence, popularity, engagement and trust. Tweetlevel was recently used to create a list of the top analysts on Twitter. As the author of that post noted, one purpose for the list was to answer the question: “Should they spend their limited time interacting with analysts via twitter?” Presumably if you’re an analyst in the Top 50, ‘yes’.

Again, reputation being used for a defined purpose.

Ross Dawson wrote a good piece about the changes coming due to the increasing visibility of “people’s actions and character”. He notes the impact of reputation on seeking professionals for work:

Many professionals will be greatly impacted by these shifts. The search for professional advice is often still highly unstructured, based on anecdotal recommendations or simple searches. As importantly, clients of large professional firms may start to be more selective on who they wish to work with at the firm, creating a more streamlined meritocracy.

The mechanisms for measuring professional reputation are still very crude, yet over the coming decade we can expect to see substantial changes in how professionals are found. This will impact many facets of the industry.

And Bertrand Dupperin sees a similar dynamic playing out internally:

Use internal social networks to build a kind of marketplace that would put work capacity and competence on a given subject in relation with needs and allow those who can apply for an assignment instead of blind assignments to those who can’t.

In a world where individuals emerge as important sources of information, products and services, people will need a way to break through the limited knowledge they’ll have on any one person. Look for online reputations to emerge as a way to fill that gap.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

37 Responses to In the Future We’ll All Have Online Reputation Scores

  1. Rawn Shah says:

    Hutch,

    There’s another parallel to Brand value which is measured/published by Fortune mag for companies. This brand value is a significant driver in many businesses, and there are studies on how this quantified metric adds a premium (think Apple) to their products and services. What you describe here is a counterpart on the social level of reputation.

  2. I like that Rawn. One way to think about that is, “what is the unique meaning you bring to a subject?” How are you differentiated? Done well, a person’s reputation will be strong, with benefits that accrue accordingly.

  3. Reuben says:

    Wikipedia is social media?

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  5. Stan Faryna says:

    Online reputation is still getting worked out as a service. But if not tomorrow. The day after.

    You can follow me on Twitter: @faryna

  6. Hutch, I see links into Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), Doc Searls and Adriana Lukas’ new gig. How online reputation and lobbying by customers forces companies to shift the balance of power away from the corporation and onto the individual.

    Your reputation will be key when this happens. Say you no longer want your personal information kept by the company you buy from. Just do it. Let a third party hold and maintain it using one-time-use email addresses or auto spam stops if the company does not keep their side of the bargain i.e. the terms you set for the ‘relationship’ and how your data can be used.

    The more powerful your online connections, the more reputation you have to lever against big corporates.

  7. Allen Tom says:

    Building an online reputation requires having a portable online identity that can be reused across sites. OpenID will need to succeed if we’re ever going to be able to use identities other than Facebook.

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  10. Synthesio says:

    Great article, Hutch. There are already online scores for a number of sites, articles, etc. depending on which tools you are looking at. Klout, for example, is one of the recent tools that provies people with their score of influence on Twitter. Synthesio scores sites on a bell curve from 0 to 10 based on the number of inbound and outbound links, volume and frequency of publications, Google PageRank, audience size, and the type of site and will soon be providing a Twitter score as well.
    It will be interesting, though, to see how scores like these will be available in the future, especially given the technology of augmented reality and widespread access to real-time information as well as the capacity to “like” or “dislike” any number of products/services/brands across a variety of social media sites.
    The Whuffie Bank is also an interesting concept that rewards people based on their interactions with others by letting people trade “whuffies” – signs of a positive online reputation.
    Just “Googling” a business or person, now though, is a way of verifying their digital reputation which translates into their offline reputation, as well.

    Best,
    Michelle
    @Synthesio

  11. lunangrangga says:

    thanks for the nice post….great job sir….

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  16. larrybruce says:

    Yeah, except that our only evidence for patterns of behavior that might lead to this conclusion lies in what’s visible in the conduct of the most narcissistic and attention-seeking members of our society (possibly the crowd with too much time on their hands). Except for media personalities, reputation and real importance inversely correlate with Internet visibility. Consider government, business, or the law – any Internet presence is strictly controlled by PR and marketing organizations within the institutions where we play a role. A good lesson to learn for anyone beginning life on the Internet is to stay off the Internet. There are exceptions for the IT community, but it would be a mistake to generalize from their experience.

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  18. Keira says:

    Let’s hope our reputation scores do not become linked to how resources are allocated in a future, direly overpopulated world. Low value human? No dinner for you! :-O

    • Melanie Reed says:

      Keira, Excellent point! Thanks for bringing that out.

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  20. Great post very useful! :)

    Thank u

  21. Mark Dykeman says:

    People will be pinging our whuffie, every day. :)

    • Get that language off my blog! ;-)

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  25. Peter says:

    “And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

  26. Sam Deeks says:

    Hutch, great post, thanks! In amongst all of the technology what interests me is the squidgy human stuff about reputation. What qualities we need to embody to create a credible and good reputation; how people feel when that is attacked (usually after having made big mistakes) and how to put it right.

    I think some people look to social media to make it easier to build a good reputation – but that can be a seductive technological wishful thinking. I think that what social media really does is to create a transparency that’s forcing everybody to start being accountable for their actions.

    I find that most people with reputation problems struggle at first to be accountable for their actions. It’s like the transparency takes them by surprise and they react with an old response – to defend or cover up. Their first response tends to be to want to try to use social media to ‘fix’ their bad reputations.

    In my work, I bring them through that into a place where (while we’re doing a bit of ‘quick fixing’) they start to learn about online reputation and eventually begin to see that the only real way to fix it is to transparently take responsibility and make amends.

    I’m very optimistic that the transparency that social media and networks of trust bring will continue to push this kind of real positive change, despite an initial desire to focus on the technological fix (to make millions or hide your bad reputation).

  27. Elizabeth says:

    This is definitely a phenomenon in development. I am curious to see how it affects people. Given businesses are being quantified/qualified, it is only a matter of time until people are under the same scrutiny. This could be from a PR perspective, academic, or social. Facebook has started the process by leveling the playing field — in that everyone has a Facebook page so they are easily comparable. What’s next?

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  30. BURN LIST says:

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    –BurnList–

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  33. Todd Stone says:

    So basically, a carpenter who is exceptional and therefore always too busy to worry about his “online presence” will be seen as less competent than a carpenter who is completely inept and never has any business and so has nothing to do all day except post crap on Twitter? What can be done to get off of this ridiculous merry-go-round and simply live your life?

    • The carpenter will have an online reputation, but it will be bestowed by his customers. And that certainly is part of an online reputation. Although not one of his own doing per se.

      Your comment did make me wonder about one scenario. Suppose he is *that* good, and decides to share some knowledge along the way. You know, a tweet here, a blog post there, a YouTube how-to video maybe. And the do-it-yourself crowd really likes what he’s saying. His peers are appreciative of his efforts. No need to be an uber social media superstar. Seriously, that’s too much effort (although Gary Vaynerchuk seems to have moved from wine to that role). But having something valuable to add and sharing it? Great basis for that online reputation.

      As for whether the head-down, exceptional carpenter who doesn’t have an “online presence” will suffer in the market, honestly, that’s not for you or me to say. The market will or will not reward those who do have such an “online presence”. Sounds implausible for the carpenter trade from where I sit, but I’ve learned not to be too smart on these things.

    • leigh himel says:

      Many of the best trades pple i know don’t always get the best jobs… They will often say it’s bc they don’t have time or money to do marketing. Throwing up a tumblr log where you can post your pictures of your latest project with some key words in it and then promoting that on twitter shouldn’t be considered a ridiculous merry-go-round but rather a potentially incredible cost effective marketing channel.

      just sayin’ :)

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