October 01, 2013

Social Networks, Identity, Psudonyms, & Influence Podcast Episodes

Here are the first 4 episodes of The Social Media Clarity Podcast:

  1. Social Network: What is it, and where do I get one? (mp3) 26 Aug 2013
  2. HuffPo, Identity, and Abuse (mp3) 5 Sep 2013  NEW
  3. Save our Pseudonyms! (Guest: Dr. Bernie Hogan) (mp3) 16 Sep 2013  NEW
  4. Influence is a Graph (mp3) 30 Sep 2013  NEW
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August 26, 2013

Follow Us Over to the Social Media Clarity Podcast

We're gettin' the band back together! Your friendly BWRS authors are reunited on a brand new podcast, aimed at designers, product managers and producers of social platforms and products.

Social Media Clarity will be a regular podcast: "15 minutes of concentrated analysis and advice about social media in platform and product design." Joining us is Marc Smith.

We're all really pleased with how the first episode has turned out. We discuss:

  • Rumors that FB will soon start throttling OpenGraph and API usage for 3d parties
  • A round-table discussion: does my product need its own social networking capabilities?
  • A practical tip at the end, an intro to NodeXL

Check it out, won't you? You can subscribe to the series (soon) through iTunes, or now at

October 12, 2010

First! Randy to be the kickoff guest for new Community Chat podcast series.

Bill Johnston and Thomas Knolls are launching a new live podcast series: Community Chat on talkshoe.

I am so honored to be the lead-off guest on their inagural episode (Wednesday 10-13-10):

The kickoff episode of Community Chat! [We] will be discussing the premise of the Community Chat podcast with special guest Randy Farmer. Will also be getting a preview of Blog World Expo from Check Hemann.

I'll be talking with them about online community issues developers and operators all share in common - well, as much as I can in 10 minutes. :-) Click on the widget above to go there - it will be recorded for those who missed it live...

UPDATE The widget is now has an option to play back the session. Just choose "Kickoff" and press play. :-)

April 06, 2010

Don't Display Negative Karma Redux: Unvarnished

It's Reputation Wednesday again, and the entire subject area of reputation systems seems to be heating up. For example there's been a lot of chatter about Unvarnished.

Update 4/13/2010: The Register is reporting that an eBayer is being sued in the amount of $15,000 for leaving negative feedback - more fodder for thought...

Unvarnished is a public karma system for real-world identities which will reportedly accept [and protect] negative anonymous comments, presumably from former co-workers.

This has generated a lot of chatter, mostly negative from folks like Evelyn Rusli at TechCrunch:Unvarnished: A Clean, Well-Lighted Place For Defamation
Today, Unvarnished makes its beta debut. It’s essentially Yelp for LinkedIn: any user can create an online profile for a professional and submit anonymous reviews. You can claim your profile, but unlike LinkedIn, you have to accept every post, warts and all. And once the profile is up there’s no taking it down.

I asked co-founder, Peter Kazanjy, “Will you ever give users the option to take down their profile?” Kazanjy’s reply: “No, because if we did that, everyone would take their profile down”
...and... CNet's Molly Wood writes in Unvarnished: Person reviews or trollfest?
Because let's be clear. Though Unvarnished may be billed as a natural extension of trends that started with LinkedIn, Yelp, and even Facebook, MySpace, and message boards, there's nothing about this site that, in my opinion, doesn't lead almost immediately to rank nastiness.

After a long conversation with co-founder Peter Kazanjy, formerly of VMWare, I'm convinced that the founders (the others come from eBay and LinkedIn) really do think they're creating a site that will maintain a professional veneer, be well moderated by its users, and won't descend into personal attacks. I just don't agree.
...and perhaps a bit more positive - Craig Newmark says in Trust and reputation systems: redistributing power and influence
The most prominent experiment in directly measuring trust is Unvarnished, very recently launched in beta form. You rate what trust you have in specific individuals, and they might rate you. Unvarnished is pretty controversial, and is already attracting a lot of legal speculation. They're trying to address all the problems related to the trustworthiness of the information they receive, and if so, might become very successful.

Unvarnished Against the grain

This service breaks several tenants of online karma (people reputation) as outlined in Building Web Reputation Systems (wiki):

  1. Don't Display Negative Karma!(from The Dollhouse Mafia post)
    We said it there best: "Avoid negative public karma, really."
  2. Karma is Complex, Built of Indirect Input (Chapter 7 of our book draft)
    The reason for using indirect input is to establish a clear context of evaluation - eBay requires you complete a transaction in their system before you rate a seller. There is no way for unvarnished to tie the negative comments to an actual context (co-worker).
  3. There is a real problem with the incentives model for all the participants (we spend one half a chapter on incentives and motivation for user generated content).
    As we warn there, mixing ego-based motivation (i.e. revenge) with commercial incentives (personal brand building) is usually toxic. Unvarnished is especially problematic with the ability to leave anonymous comments. Doesn't anyone remember F* Having been the target of comments like "Sieg Heil, Randy!" I can tell you one possible outcome for Unvarnished: Deadpool.
  4. Scanning our post summarizing Karma best practices suggests quite a few places Unvarnished might want to look at closely when creating and displaying their karma.

A colleague that worked for, an identity aggregation site told me that they would get people angry at the fact that a profile had been assembled on their behalf on Wink, even if it was only built by a search engine—they would often demand it's removal, even though it only contained public data. Identity and privacy are sensitive topics.

The one thing I'm sure of, from my experience building online communities for over 35 years, the founders of Unvarnished will discover that the use-patterns will look nothing like what they've planned for or predicted. They have bitten off something in an area that is fraught with peril, and so far (in the press, at least) haven't shown any understanding how significantly different business reviews are from public user karma, especially when people's livelihoods are at stake.

[BTW, I've signed up for the beta at - so if you're already a member, push the magic button that requests a review from me. :-)]

March 31, 2010

Incentives and Behavior: Consider the Mayor

Are you considering an incentive system for your online community or application? There's been an overwhelming amount of attention paid lately to the ways that providing incentives—points, badges or trophies—to users can influence their behaviors and contributions. If you're already sold, then pay careful attention to NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to incentivize positive behaviors amongst the city's poorest residents:

An unusual and much-heralded program that gave poor families cash to encourage good behavior and self-sufficiency has so far had only modest effects on their lives and economic situation, according to an analysis the Bloomberg administration released on Tuesday.
In the book, we caution against intermixing market and social norms (or providing external incentives in lieu of leveraging people's already-present intrinsic motivations) and it would be easy to point to NYC's experience as supporting that stance. Easy, but—perhaps—not entirely fair. As the Times article points out, the program has at least been partially succesful at lifting some citizens out of poverty.

It's interesting to note that one of the program's earliest failings, however, was its complexity. There were also problems of trust, comprehension and user education:

“I think people were confused, and there was some amount of distrust,” Ms. Brandenburg said. “For some people it sounded too good to be true. It took a while to explain to people what the offer was.”

Ms. Gibbs said many families had been perplexed by the guidelines that were laid out for them. Cash payments were eventually eliminated for actions like getting a library card and follow-up visits with a doctor.

“Too many things, too many details, more to manage in the lives of burdened, busy households,” Ms. Gibbs said, standing next to the mayor on Tuesday. “Big lesson for the future? Got to make it a lot more simple.”

These are all classic user experience problems that you, too, will wrestle with should you decide to provide incentives to influence behavior. (Hat-tip to Sam Ladner for the article-pointer.)

October 13, 2009

Wikimania Redux Tonight at BayCHI

For those of you in the Bay Area, we heartily recommend tonight's BayCHI gathering, a redux presentation of several talks from Wikimania 2009. BuildingRep friend and Yahoo! Director of UX Micah Alpern will be re-presenting his talk on Yahoo! Answers Community Moderation. (We posted it here a couple of weeks ago.)

This same project also provides an indepth case-study for the closing chapter of our book, and provides loads of real-world examples of useful metrics, ROI and the practical and social effects of reputation systems. If you can make it to Micah's talk tonight, at all, we encourage you to do so. Time and location information here.

August 07, 2009

Abusing FICO

Today's NY Times has a reputation-related article that I find distressing—Another Hurdle for the Jobless: Credit Inquiries:

Once reserved for government jobs or payroll positions that could involve significant sums of money, credit checks are now fast, cheap and used for all manner of work. Employers, often winnowing a big pool of job applicants in days of nearly 10 percent unemployment, view the credit check as a valuable tool for assessing someone’s judgment.
This is, basically, the tale of a formalized reputation score (your FICO, or credit score) that has run amok, and may have outgrown its original intent.

Factors in a FICO credit score

In Chapter 1 of Building Web 2.0 Reputations Systems, we discuss the differences between local reputations and global reputations. Local reputations are highly specific to the context in which they're earned and typically have greater value as a decision-making device when they're evaluated within that context. This makes a certain sense when you think about it: John may have earned the 'Top Selling Realtor' award at his agency for three years running, but—when pulled over by the police for erratic driving—he'd be foolish to proffer up his lucite trophies as evidence of his upstanding, sober character. The one reputation has no currency in the other context.

There is a certain gray area, however, where local reputations do have some fungibility between contexts. Where the perceived differences between contexts are minimal enough that the reputation earned in one should still count for something in the other. So if John takes his Top Realtor awards with him to a regional real-estate conference? Well, they still kinda count for something. The context differs in scope—geography—but the applied domain—real estate—is the same. People in the new context can understand the reputation well enough to evaluate it and appreciate the effort (the inputs) that went into earning it.

Or perhaps John puts his awards on his LinkedIn profile to impress local small business owners with the chamber of commerce. The domain's not real estate anymore, but enough other facets of the contexts (local geography, a shared 'business professional' context) give his reputation some meaning to that audience. So locally-earned reputations can be immensely valuable when applied in related contexts.

An extremely limited number of reputations find utility in a great number of contexts. We call these reputations global reputations. [Note: this terminology is largely of our own devise, and we're not convinced that local vs. global carries exactly the right connotations. We welcome your suggestions.] Global reputations may, in fact, be an illusion. Our tendency seems to be to want to believe that some objective measure of a person's self-worth can be tabulated, stored and transferred with ease.

This, of course, is not the case. The further the interpretation of a reputation strays afield from the context in which it was earned (and the purposes for which it was originally created), then the less reliable that reputation is. This is the crux of the problem with FICO. Think for a moment about the original intent of your credit report. It is a tool for credit lenders to predict how valuable a customer you may or may not be to them. It is a highly-contextual and specific score, and it considers inputs specific to that evaluation: do you pay your bills on time? do you use the credit you've been given? how much? how frequently? do you have a lot of credit? too much?

The answers to these questions have great utility to credit-lenders, and rolling them up into an easily accessible score has definitely contributed to FICO's wild success as a credit-lending device. Unfortunately, this level of abstraction also gives the illusion that the FICO score has great portability between contexts. It's a numerical score, so it looks like an objective measure. The temptation is simply too great to believe that a high credit score equates to good citizenship, trustworthiness, high moral fiber and love of God & country.

I think you can see how misled and ridiculous this belief is, but as evidence that it's a fundamentally flawed assumption, consider the following: even within its own context, FICO is basically a subjective measure. It was created to inform the purposes of a specific set of evaluators—credit lenders. Remember, when a credit underwriter evaluates your score, the question that they're really hoping to answer is: will I make money off of this customer? Only as a facet or component of that question do they care about the related one: is this person responsible with their money?

A high credit score doesn't necessarily mean what many folks seem to think it means about a person's financial stability or decision-making prowess. There are any number of extremely wise patterns of behavior that a person might engage in that could result in a poor (or no) credit score: saving most of your money; or paying for purchases only in cash; never taking out a line of credit. These behaviors might make you a less-than-optimal credit customer, but would anyone truly argue that they make you a bad person? Or financially irresponsible? Of course not.

So, judging the quality of a person's character on their credit report? That's a fool's errand.

The Times article points out the truly insidious problem with basing hiring determinations on a person's credit score:

“How do you get out from under it?” asked Matthew W. Finkin, a law professor at the University of Illinois, who fears that the unemployed and debt-ridden could form a luckless class. “You can’t re-establish your credit if you can’t get a job, and you can’t get a job if you’ve got bad credit.”
This is exactly the danger that our draft chapter points out. This mis-application of your credit rating creates a feedback loop. This is a situation in which the inputs into the system (in this case, your employment) are dependent in some part upon the output from the system. Why are feedback loops bad? Well, as the Times points out—feedback loops are self-perpetuating and, once started, nigh-impossible to break. And, much like in music production (Neil Young notwithstanding) feedback loops are generally to be avoided because they muddy the fidelity of the signal. (We'll be talking more about feedback loops in the yet-to-be-drafted Chapter 10 of our book.)

Remember, a credit score—like any reputation—was created to serve a purpose. Generally, to provide information to make determinations within a specific context. Straying too far from that context, or applying it in ways that feed back into the system, erodes confidence in the system itself. (It's out of scope for—though perfectly aligned with—this discussion, but some blame the misapplication of FICO into the field of mortgage approvals for playing a significant role in the subprime mortgage collapse.)