Reputation Servers

In Bruce Sterling’s 1999 book Distraction, interpersonal relationships are largely mediated by “Relationship servers” that keep track of reputations beyond your immediate circle. People will sign up to help someone according to their trustworthiness, and they’re given tongue-in-cheek ranks to indicate how trusted they are. It winds up being a powerful sociopolitical tool in the story, of course.

Facebook — particularly Facebook Login — promises to be that kind thing, with Google Buzz following hot on its heels. But they’ve both made a horrible, critical error: they confused their users with their product. Let’s ignore the fact that, in this age of forward thinking, world-shaking media, they’re treating Google and Facebook like fucking commercial television in that regard. Instead, let’s look at what could be done to make shit work right.

I’m envisioning an Open Source Facebook. You establish yourself as a real person, with relationships, shared activities, a face, a birthday, and so forth. But this is distributed, encrypted, and signed. I’m imagining something along the lines of DNS or BitTorrent. It would necessarily include links to your blog, Twitter, Gravatar, Flobber, and Gropnik accounts (at your request) and allow you rights to edit the accessibility of those items category-by-category and person-by-person.

Doable? Can you design or program such a thing? How do I help?

9 thoughts on “Reputation Servers”

  1. It’s not OpenID, actually.

    You’re actually one step ahead of, say, OpenSocial, which had horrible adoption rates.

    You’re talking peer-to-peer social networking. OpenSocial is close, but OpenSocial was supposed to be a protocol that allowed different service providers to create social networking software that could talk to one another.

    If you’re talking about a BitTorrent model, you’re talking about bypassing a service provider and going directly to the users.

    I like it. It has issues with regards to uptime and connectivity, but it sounds very, very cool.

  2. Jeff, OpenID doesn’t seem to do *anything* that I can see. It just gives you a login for lots of services. You can have a bunch of them, and because they’re not tied to real-you in any way, you can have as many of them as you like.

    Hey, T-Boy, I don’t know who you are, so I don’t know your expertise (ironically). You’re absolutely right: BitTorrent has definite uptime issues. That’s why I also bring up DNS, which is deeply redundant. This could be something that ISPs and domain hosts could offer as a service.

    The key here is obviously figuring out how to get people to need to see others’ profiles the way Facebook does. People sign up because they want to see someone else’s pics. If I have images on Flickr that only my Family can see, my Family will register, assuming it’s really easy.

  3. Josh, it’s what OpenID was supposed to be. The ID part of an OpenID is a web page that provides a service endpoint; OpenID providers can do whatever they want with that page, including exposing a profile as one of the services.
    Facebook Login might finally be the thin end of the wedge that drives wider OpenID adoption, because (as you point out) FB gives new users an incentive to join that grows with FB’s userbase, and because once you start using SNSes, you start to immediately perceive the value of a unified account. And your FB OpenID is, in fact, tied to your profile, and it’s a profile that people maintain (unlike their Google Profiles, for instance), so it really might do a decent job of fulfilling the identifier role of a name.

    Just out of curiosity, what problems have you seen with BitTorrent uptime? For sufficiently popular records, BT is indestructible, as far as I’ve seen. Is it possible that your ISP is actually to blame?

  4. Yeah, the issue isn’t how to do this, it’s how to make anyone care enough to use it once you’ve done it. It has to be enormously, hugely, “magically” better than Facebook as an experience or it won’t matter.

  5. Yep! Which means actually leveraging what we’ve learned about social networking in the last few years. Off the top of my head:

    • You talk with your friends. They’re the source of reputation, after all.
    • You show stuff to your friends.
    • You consolidate services, rather than requiring users to use yours for everything.
    • You have an easy web interface AND API so there can be lots of clients.
    • You assume it will be used mobilely.

    When you take a pic with your phone, it should ask you if you want to publish it and to whom, probably by category. Its GPS should let only certain people know where you are. Your status updates go out to a Venn diagram of people.

    Something very curious to me about Facebook is that a lot of people use it as an arcade of shitty games and a source of badly spelled personality quizzes. Whatever my feelings on the quality of such games, it’s obviously an important features of the system. Getting game developers onboard means that a couple of addictive games could get a buzz going. You can only play multiplayer (or see whose scores are high, or whatever way you interact with other people) once you’ve got an ID.

  6. Alternative currency would motivate this. Real-world whuffie.

    Of course, then you have two problems: how do you make anyone want a currency when it doesn’t yet get anyone anything they want, because no one takes it, because no one has it?

    Facebook has long been rumored to be working on an online payment system, which could either kill this idea dead or be the sucktastic thing that this idea needs to be compared to to take off.

  7. Colin, sorry, I somehow hadn’t gotten a notification of a bunch of messages. I hope you’re subbed to this thread.

    Just out of curiosity, what problems have you seen with BitTorrent uptime? For sufficiently popular records, BT is indestructible, as far as I’ve seen. Is it possible that your ISP is actually to blame?

    It’s when things get unpopular that they get problematic.

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