The companion wiki for Building Web 2.0 Reputation Systems is open, with the initial draft of the first chapter posted for comment and feedback. Next we'll put up the outline and chapter summaries. Expect a new chapter every two weeks, with regular updates of the previous work based on your participation!
Here's a little teaser from the first chapter - Reputation Systems are Everywhere!
Reputation Systems are Everywhere!
Imagine the following conversation—maybe you've had one like it yourself. Robert is out to
dinner with a client, Bill, and proudly shares some personal news.
He says, “My daughter Wendy is attending Harvard in the Fall!”
“Really! I'm curious—how did you pick Harvard?” asks Bill.
“Why, it has the best reputation. Especially for law, and Wendy wants
to be a lawyer.”
“Did she consider Yale? My boss is a Yale man—swears by their law school.”
“Heh. Yes, depending on who you ask, their programs are quite competitive. In the end, we
really liked Harvard's proximity to our home—we won't be more than an hour away.”
“Won't it be expensive?”
“It's certainly not cheap… but it is prestigious. We'll make trade
offs elsewhere if we have to—it's worth it for my little girl!”
It's an unremarkable story in the details (okay, maybe most us
haven't been accepted to Harvard!) but this simple exchange demonstrates the power of
reputation in our everyday lives. Reputation is pervasive and
inescapable. It's a critical tool that enables us to make decisions, both large (like
Harvard vs. Yale) and small (What restaurant would impress my
client for dinner tonight?) Robert and Bill's conversation yields other insights
into the nature of reputation, as well…
People have reputations, but so do things
We often think of reputation in terms of people (perhaps because
we're so conscious of our own reputation?) but, of course, many things are also capable of
acquiring reputations. In this story, Harvard certainly has a reputation, but so perhaps may
a host of lesser-considered items. Consider for a moment the restaurant
that Bill and Robert are sharing a conversation in; think of the dishes
that they've ordered, or perhaps the wine that accompanies their meal.
It's probably no coincidence that they've made this specific set of choices that brought
them to this moment: reputation has almost certainly played a part in all of these
decisions. This book will describe formal, codeable systems for assessing and evaluating
reputations, both for people and things.
Reputations always take place within a context
Bill praises Harvard for its generally excellent reputation (and rightfully so) but this
is not what's led his family to choose the school. No, in particular,
it's Harvard's reputation as a law school. Reputation is earned within
a context—sometimes its value extends outside of just that context
(Harvard is generally well-regarded for academics, for example.) And reputations earned in
one context certainly influence reputations in other contexts.
Things can have reputations in multiple contexts, simultaneously.
In our example, domains of academic excellence, certainly are critical contexts. But
geography can define a context as well, and can sway a final
decision. Furthermore, all of an item's reputations need not agree
across contexts. In fact, it's highly unlikely that they will. It's entirely possible to
have an excellent reputation in one context, an
abysmal one in another, and no reputation at all in a third. No one
excels at everything, after all! For example, a dining establishment may have a 5-star chef
and the best seafood in town, but woefully inadequate parking. This can lead to seemingly
oxymoronic statements such as Yogi Berra's famous line: “No one goes there anymore—it's too
We use reputation to help us make better decisions
A large part of this book will be dedicated to defining reputation
in a formal, systematized fashion. But—for now—put simply (and somewhat incompletely)
reputation is information used to make a value judgment about an object or
person. It's worth examining this assertion in a little more detail.
Where does this information come from? It depends—some of it may be information that
you, the evaluator, already possess (perhaps by direct experience, long-standing familiarity
or the like.) But a significant component of reputation has to do with assimilating
information that is externally produced, meaning that it does not
originate with the person who is evaluating it. We tend to rely more-heavily on reputations
in circumstances where we don't have first-hand knowledge of the object being evaluated.
Where the experiences of others can be an invaluable aid in our
decision. (As you will see, this is a critical point when thinking
about reputation on the social web.)
What types of value judgments are we talking about? All kinds. Value judgments can be
decisive, continuous, and expressive. Sometimes, the judgment is as simple as declaring that
something is noteworthy (“thumbs up” or a
favorite.) Other times, you want to know the relative rank or a numeric scale
value of something in order to decide how much of your precious resources—attention, time,
or money—to dedicate to it. Other judgments are less about calculation and more about free
form analysis and opinion, such as movie reviews or personal testimonials. Finally, some
judgments only make sense in a small social context, such as “All your friends
What about the objects and people that we're evaluating? We'll refer to these as
Reputable Entities throughout this book (that is, they are capable of
accruing reputation.) Some entities are better candidates for accruing reputation than
others and we'll give guidance on the best strategies for identifying these.
And, finally, what type of information do we mean? Well, this
information could be almost anything! In a broad sense, if it can be used to judge a thing
then it informs—in some part—that thing's reputation. When thinking about reputation in a
formal, systematized fashion, it's beneficial to think of this information in small,
discrete units of existence. Throughout this book, you'll learn that
the Reputation Statement is the building block of any reputation
... read the rest of Chapter 1 ...