Thinking Reputation and Human Behavior

I’ve been thinking about reputation all night. Literally.

Before you read any further, take one quick second to think about your definition of the word reputation. I looked it up in the dictionary mostly to make sure that I was referring to it correctly. I was surprised to find that my definition of reputation, or at least its reputation in my mind, did not quite match up. It is defined by the New Oxford English Dictionary as:

1 - the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something”

2 - a widespread belief that someone or something has a particular habit or characteristic

It comes from the Latin reputare which means to “think over”.

I don’t disagree with these definitions, but they are coming at the meaning from an opposing point of view. I always thought of reputation as something you possess. Your reputation is yours and while people can affect it for good or ill, it’s still “my reputation…” etc. 

But, the reputation exists outside of yourself. It’s the external perception of who you are. This means reputation isn’t something one owns (although you can still “own” it), but a collective response from the world(s) in which you operate. You are a contributor to your reputation, you earn it, but it doesn’t belong to you… and it can take on a “life” of its own. And that’s the scary part.

Reputation can be boosted, inflated, restricted, distorted, stolen, fabricated, exaggerated, etc. People can ruin your reputation… and so can you.  

It sounds complicated because it is. People have been trying to solve measurement for quite some time. For example, Klout is one service that has been attempting to aggregate and measure online, social reputations since 2009 for businesses and individuals.

There are also a lot of consumer studies out there trying to measure why people do what they do. Wendy Salomon, VP of Reputation Management for Nielsen writes:

Their Lens, Not Yours. Reputation measurement must take into account the truism that each stakeholder evaluates … reputation through the lens of what matters to them.

The more lenses, the more complex the measurement.

Narrative is going to use reputation to help determine distributions. This will be tricky. Take this temporary forum, for example. Users who haven’t contributed one unique thought, have earned lot of points and rank towards the top of the community. Are they influencers? They are liking “likes”. This is only one of the many ways people “game” reputation. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, just do it with eyes wide open.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start. Here are several Reputation-Gaming personas that should be considered when building out Narrative’s Reputation algorithms (aka Native):

  1. Chimers: These are the “Like”-likers. They “chime” in, with minimal effort, on everything that’s said. They are the bystander who chimes in “yeah!” on the heels of someone telling someone else off. The level of effort to be a chimer is almost nil. Just wait for someone to say something, then chime in with a “yeah” or a “sho’nuff” and pat yourself on the back for a hard day’s work.
  2. Hijackers: I worked for a future-forward business development think tank for a major wireless carrier. And, in the early years, we had a small, agile team and it was awesome. As it grew, however, several bars was lowered and we began to have bigger, slower teams and meetings about meetings. During brainstorms, without fail, the core group would be sparking ideas off one another for 55 minutes. At minute 55, one person would “hijack” the meeting with their great idea. Only it wasn’t theirs, they were contributing nothing more than a regurgitated rephrasing of whatever everyone else had said… and putting it forward as their idea. Hijacker. 
  3. Followers: Followers aren’t harmful so much as they are a sort of group-think gatekeeper. As an entourage builds, the echo chamber gets louder and louder. New ideas are shouted down in deference to the popular ones. Or, new ideas prevail because of their newness… Depending on the followers and their priority valuation. 
  4. Trolls & Fools: The internet is no stranger to Trolls. They seek destruction and the solution, once identified, is simple: banishment. However, there are sometimes “Fools” that get mislabeled as Trolls. These are the King Lear fools, the court jesters that point out the emperor is, in fact, wearing no clothes. These are the Joking Cousins that play the roles of Devil’s Advocate and question “authority”. And you don’t want to throw these babies out with the bathwater. 
  5. Back-Scratchers: These could also be called “Chimer Cyclones”. These are the “like me and I’ll like you back” tit-for-tatters. A group of people who are less concerned about the value they are adding, and more concerned with the ways in which they can increase the value they derive from a community. This behavior is most readily observed in the DeviantArt community, and Twitter’s not far behind.

Some of these are harder to screen than others. Relying on community policing isn’t foolproof either. People tend to prefer that the boat(s) they’re in remain “un-rocked”. And, people try and game systems to get the most benefit with the lowest amount of risk/effort. 

Another wireless carrier I worked with was offering a “buy-one-get-one” (BOGO) deal. They went around and around on how to structure the campaign because they knew people, including their own employees, would look for loopholes and try and game the system to get multiple free phones (which they could then sell on Craigslist or eBay). They ultimately recognized no solution was perfect, and it was an exercise in minimizing damages. 

How are we going to measure reputation? Heck if I know! 

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