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January 27, 2009

Chapter Summaries

Up to now, if you'd visited any of the not-yet-drafted Chapter pages over on the wiki, you would've seen... well, nothing! It occurred to Randy and me that this was probably not the best way to solicit public comment. This is particularly problematic because it's exactly at this stage—before we've drafted a chapter—when comments and direction are most valuable.

So today Randy migrated most of the content over from the proposal that we presented to Yahoo! and O'Reilly for the book, so each incomplete chapter now features a SUMMARY direct from our book proposal. These summaries are sketchy outlines for the chapters contents that hopefully call out concepts that we're anticipating.

Please check them out, and add comments with suggestions for additions, or questions on what's already there. This guidance is invaluable as we embark on each new chapter. Here are the incomplete chapters, to get you started:
Chapter 2: A Grammar for Reputation
Chapter 3: Execution Environments for Reputation
Chapter 4: Basic Building Blocks
Chapter 5: Simple, Common Models
Chapter 6: Consider Your Goals
Chapter 7: Objects, Inputs, Scope & Mechanism
Chapter 9: Application Integration, Testing & Tuning
Chapter 10: Keeping Your Reputation Community Healthy
Chapter 11: Case Studies

Tweaking Our Approach

We're still refining our approach as we plow ahead with the business of writing Building Web 2.0 Reputation Systems. Late last week, we delivered a draft of Chapter 8 to our editors at O'Reilly and we've been taking a bit of a breather ever since.

Well—a break on the writing: on the process and planning fronts, Randy and I have been expending some energy on dissecting our experience up to now, and trying to tweak some parts of the formula to improve things for subsequent chapters.

One thing cost us some extra expended energy for the last chapter: a certain amount of topic-drift. We decided to follow up our first delivered chapter (which was Chapter 1, naturally enough) with an out-of-sequence chapter (we jumped all the way ahead to Chapter 8!)

We had our reasons for doing this, but one outcome was that we had a lot more stuff crammed in there than we'd intended to. (Probably because we skipped all those intervening chapters, and we were feeling their absence keenly.)

To that end, I've proposed a tool to keep us more on-track for our next chapters, regardless of what order we tackle them in. I've uploaded a copy here: a simple planning document that we're going to try before starting each Chapter. (Download the .doc) And, yes, we're not authoring the book in Word, so I intentionally picked that format for this preliminary document: something to explicitly keep us out of 'writing mode' until we have a chance to discuss, plan and even re-draft a crude chapter outline.

Another area that we're interested in improving is feedback on the wiki. We've gotten some wonderful feedback so far, and its effect is intoxicating—we want more! So we've discussed a couple of strategies for making the wiki more accessible. We realize that the long chapters can be daunting, and having the ability to comment only at the bottom of a chapter is probably inhibiting folks' ability (and desire) to comment. So look for some improvements to that whole thing in coming weeks.

We're doing one other thing to increase comment-ability on the wiki, but I think I'll post that next in a separate entry. It's worth its own horn-toot.

We're both first-time authors, still feeling our way around working together. We expect more course-corrections throughout the course of writing (hopefully these will slow and eventually stop as the book really finds it form.) And, as long as it doesn't get boring, we'll continue to share our thoughts on the writing process here. With you.

January 24, 2009

Suggest an Animal

O'Reilly accepts suggestions of what animal might be appropriate for it's books. We think there are probably a lot of great ideas out there for Building Web 2.0 Reputation Systems, so we've opened up a wiki page to gather your suggestions.

Perhaps, if you hit upon the perfect creature, it will be selected by O'Reilly. Then again, maybe not, as they maintain editorial control - as is proper. But, this seems to be just the right kind of book to do this particular kind of hive-mind query on...

If your suggestion is used, we promise to credit you appropriately.

January 23, 2009

Draft available for Chapter 8: Displaying Reputation

We've just posted the first draft of Chapter 8: Displaying Reputation on the wiki and submitted it to O'Reilly for our first editorial review. We're expecting a lot of feedback about structure, grammar, etc. from them in the coming weeks.

If you're brave enough, we'd love to hear from our peers about the content. So far we've used everything that people have sent us or left in comments to improve our work - and we intend to go right on doing just that. Keep it up, and many thanks!

Below is the first little bit of the new chapter to whet your appetite:

Three Questions

Okay, so you've designed a reputation model and decided how to collect your inputs. But your work doesn't end there. Far from it. No, now you're faced with a number of decisions about how best to use the reputations that your system is tabulating. Specifically, this chapter and the next will discuss your many options for using reputation to improve the user experience of your site, enrich content quality, and help educate and provide incentive for your users to become better, and more active, participants.

We'll walk you through a simple process for deciding how best to use reputations. We'll start with three simple questions:

  1. Who will be able to see the reputation?
    • Is it personal—hidden from other users, but visible to the reputation holder?
    • Is it public—displayed to friends or strangers, or visible to search engines?
    • Or is it limited to corporate use—for improving the site or recognising outliers in discrete ways that may not be visible to the community?
  2. How will the reputation be used to modify your site's output?
    • Will the reputation be used to filter the lowest- or highest- quality items in a set?
    • Will items be sorted or ranked using it?
    • And/or will this score be used to make other decisions about how the site flows or your business operates?
  3. Is this reputation for a content item or a person? There are some fundamental differences in approaches for each.

January 07, 2009

Ze Frank on Participation

This requires much more attention than I'm able to give it at the moment, but this blog from Ze Frank on fostering online participation looks phenomenally good, and touches on many of the discussion points that we'd like to cover in Bw20RS. Of course, if anyone's qualified to talk about how to engage with your community in a meaningful, and non-demeaning way, it's Ze. So I'd encourage anyone to go check that stuff out, while we work on stealing .. er.. 'assimilating' Ze's lessons into our own flight-plan. :-) (Via Kottke.)

January 06, 2009

Wiki announcement - Reputation Systems are Everywhere!

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!

A Conversation

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 crowded.”

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 liked it.”

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 system.

... read the rest of Chapter 1 ...

January 04, 2009

Our Plans

It's worthwhile to pause a second, and discuss our plans for this website. We think they're pretty straightforward, so bare with us... this'll be quick. (Oh, and subject to change as well—Randy and I are first-time authors, learning as we go here. So don't hold us to anything.)

This thing you're reading right now? This is our blog. (Duh.) You probably have seen one of these before. You probably have one of these, or several. (Or you did before you left them moldering and neglected to go play on Twitter all day long.) We're going to use this blog as a really freewheelin' discussion generation engine.

So some entries that appear here will definitely be destined for the book. Others might merely be top-of-the-head musings, or content that probably won't make it into the book. Unless you decide otherwise: entries that generate a lot of discussion will be promoted in the ranking of 'things we think people will want to know about reputation systems.' And, of course—because this is a blog—sometimes we'll just point to reputation-related links and current happenings, often with a bit of commentary.

The other major component to this site will be a wiki, that will house the in-progress draft of the book! This will come online soon, with our first chapter already roughed in. Again, we're kinda making this up as we go (though drawing inspiration where we can from other O'Reilly titles like Designing Social Interfaces and Real World Haskell.) Our current thinking on the wiki is that we may not enable full-text editing of chapters just yet—this is related more to our authoring-and-publishing workflow (which, again, is a work-in-progress. Are you sensing a theme here?) But there will certainly be a rich commenting capability and a couple pairs of eager ears to hear your voice.

We hope that those of you who are really interested in this stuff will spend a decent amount of time on both sides of the site. By all means, subscribe to the feed for the blog, leave comments, trackbacks and the like. But we're also really hoping that you leave some time for a deeper read over on the wiki. There's alot to be said about reputation online, and sometimes you just can't fit this stuff in a bite-size tweet!

(Oh, and—as soon as we figure out this XML-based Docbook-to-dokuwiki-to-html-and-back-again publishing scheme that Randy is working on, I'm gonna insist that he write a colophon entry. I think some of you will find it incredibly useful.)