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!
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.