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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Online Reputation and Trust

Reputation and Trust

In the online world, this is such a fascinating topic. Where so much anonymity can exist, how can a people trust one another and build reputations? What are you trusting…a person, a username, the community, the safety net around the community, etc.?


As these articles include, my experience with online trust and reputation can be summed up using ebay as an example. Risk, trust, reputation, negative feedback, positive feedback, and formal enforcement policies all come into play with ebay. So, what makes me trust enough to make an ebay purchase? My thoughts and actions usually follow a pattern as follows.

First, I locate an item I wish to purchase. I scan over the pictures and descriptions for any obvious signs of reasons to not trust the item or seller. This test of face validity is important to me. Are there spelling mistakes, is the picture good quality, and does the layout of the description (color scheme, animations, repetition in details, external links, general readability) look as if it is attempting to detract from the actual item? Things like this. If I’m uncomfortable with the description, I may move on to the next item, I may contact the seller with some question, hoping to confirm or refute my assumptions. I’ve learned that there is a strong correlation between good face validity in an item description and the reputation of the seller. But I don’t know why. Is it because a certain type of person is trustworthy and able to produce a quality presentation? I doubt it, else why would con artist be so successful. Is it because these flaws in item description really are a representation of the product (and service that accompanies that product); that is, the flaws are little clues that something is wrong with the item and/or seller? I tend to agree with this hypothesis.

If the item description passes the face validity test, then I glance at the feedback record of the seller. If the feedback rating is 100% then I don’t even bother to read the details of the feedback, regardless of how many feedback responses there are. How new a person is to the ebay community has very little bearing on my willingness to purchase an item. If the feedback is less than 100% then I scan through the details, and the number of feedbacks is important. Generally, I look for trends. If a person has many feedback responses and made mistakes early in their ebay experience, but have fixed the problems—say, bad packaging, charging too much on shipping, slow response, or bad communication—then I am very likely to dismiss all of the negative feedbacks. However, if a person has only a few total feedback and/or the negative feedbacks are fairly recent, then I will likely make a judgment call on how severe the negative comments are and if they are things that would bother me (for example, charging too much for shipping does not bother me as long as it’s clearly stated in the product description).

If the feedback is deemed acceptable, then I look to see how many others are bidding on the item. This seems like a strange thing to do, yet it isn’t. By looking at how many others are bidding, I am really looking at how many others trust the current item being sold and the reputation of the seller. It’s a small validation that my impressions are supported by others. An item with fifteen people bidding gives me more encouragement than an item with one person bidding. There have been a few occasions where had other people been bidding on an item, I would have bid also, but since there weren’t I did not bid.

Once all of these items are acceptable, I email the seller with any questions. If the seller does not respond to my questions, I will not bid, regardless of how all the previous trust issues played out. The seller not responding to a question is more powerful than anything else. It speaks to their likelihood of responding should any problem arise. If they do not respond beforehand, why would they respond afterwards?

If my questions are answered or if I did not have any questions, then I go ahead and bid (realize that if there are no questions, this whole trust-building process usually takes less than two minutes). There is one more item that plays into trust in the online/ebay world: internal protections.

The articles are incorrect, perhaps because they are out-dated (in technology terms). There are warranties, guarantees, and a formal enforcement of rules with ebay and other online locations requiring trust and reputation. If it weren’t for these guarantees, I would be much less trusting to carry out any transaction online, regardless of the reputation and my perception of trust of a person. In fact there are several layers of protection for the buyer on ebay. I refer to these as ebay’s safety net. If a buyer purchases an item using a credit card through PayPal, s/he is protected the most. Ebay’s policy is to refund up to $200 if an item does not arrive to the purchaser at all. Paypal’s policy is to refund up to $500 if an item arrives but is not as it was described. And, most credit cards will refund a disputed claim if there is a legitimate reason and if it is within thirty days. I admit that these three protections are in the back of my mind, when I am purchasing an ebay item, just in case something goes wrong with the sale. I have, on a couple occasions, had to take advantage of these protections and they work very well. Frequently the amount I am willing to spend for an item is mandated by the limits on the refund policies of ebay and PayPal.

I’m an inherently trusting person. At the same time, I cannot understand how people like Mark Cuban could spend over $30 million buying a private jet online from a stranger. I am caused to ask: is he more trusting than I, does he have other safety nets in place I do not know about, or is money that available to him that he could risk losing so much of it? I am only willing to spend online what I can afford to lose completely, sort of likely gambling.

So, how does this compare with transactions in the real world, you know the one where interactions occur with real people, usually without computers and the Internet? In the real world, to me, an archived record of trust and reputation is much less important. This is because, as one of the articles stated, capturing and distributing quality feedback is costly. So costly, in fact, that I’m willing to bet that customers never really get accurate feedback records from people and companies with whom they do business. I would also add that gathering and distributing accurate feedback is not as cost beneficial in the real world as it is online. As far as reputation goes, I rely on word of mouth and my own personal experience when purchasing any good or service ahead of relying on a feedback record or archived reputation. This means that a real-world seller must be more preoccupied with current happenings than with long term trends of improvement. In establishing trust, I rely on body language, gut feeling, and speech usage (sarcasm, joking, hesitations, stuttering, etc.) much more in real-world transactions than I could ever possibly do with online transactions. I would also say things like, “Hey, how have your dealings with so and so been recently?”

Fan Fiction

I had never heard of fan fiction until this week. What an amazing phenomenon. I enjoyed reading the following authors mostly because they wrote about TV shows that I enjoyed as a teenager. I posted reviews on three of their stories.

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2106027/1/ da90schic Saved By the Bell
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1931444/1/ sammac MacGyver
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2104404/1/ nitscali1 Star Trek: The Next Generation

I then wrote a piece in the Star Trek category:


If only I had more time, I could really get into this type of writing. It makes me wonder what type of people write fan fictions. Is it children, is it college undergrads without enough to do, or is it adults who have plenty to do but find a reason to write these stories. I don’t know.

So why do people write fan fictions? I believe it is because there is a certain amount of anonymity involved. People can write without having to worry about being critiqued personally. They also can count on getting anonymous feedback from others who have no other reason to give feedback except to genuinely improve the writing. It seems a lot of people wish to write but feel they haven’t got an avenue to do so….or at least one they are comfortable with. There is something intrinsically motivating about taking a creation (in this case a piece of writing) and showing it to the world. One can expect praise and adulations and one can expect critique and arguments. Both serve to improve the quality of the creation. Yet, by doing so anonymously, there is a risk factor that is removed. One is not putting their reputation out in public to be scorned.

So how would this affect learning? Well, I find it fascinating that there is data supporting the claim that many who contribute most productively on fan fictions are not that productive in the classroom. I believe it is because for the reasons listed in the previous paragraph: anonymity, opportunity to demonstrate work, low risk, and desire for feedback. So, how would we harness these attributes in the classroom? Perhaps activities should be incorporated that offer these aspects. In a larger classroom, say of thirty or more students, this would be possible. Anonymity could be reasonably achieved (lots of students) as well as quality feedback (enough students to offer varying opinions).

This almost seems strange, though, as I think back to grade school days. How would I have felt having my creations open for praise and critique. I guess in a way, we did that. I remember doing work that we then stamped our name on and posted in the hallways for the school to see. The only way, really, to get feedback was to overhear what people said as they looked over the creations. It would have been a much better learning experience to have these works left anonymous and formally provided for a means of feedback. It would have been the best of both worlds…learning by doing and improving learning through feedback.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Blog Hopping Part 2

The five edublogs I followed and made thoughtful comments:






Topics that interested me:

I guess it’s not really a topic, per se, but something that interested me and stood out was the rampant use of metaphors trying to explain everything. I liked them, but I couldn’t help wonder why there were so many. Perhaps one motivation of blogs, especially edublogs is to try and explain things, and metaphors seems a good way to do it.

Some that stood out to me were…The use of metaphors to explain to others what blogs are like. “They’re like a 3D game.” Says one writer, “One space connects to another and you poke around from place to place looking and finding those little important nuggets along the way.” Another was on learning objects, stating, “I conceive of learning objects as being analogous to molecular compounds. They are composed of atomic units (assets, or elements), and can be used to perform a highly specific role in the compound state (learning object), or broken down into the atomic/elemental state to be used as raw materials for a new compound (learning object).”

Most of the real topics I followed seemed to be centered around open source/open content/open education/open learning issues…and some around learning objects, digital libraries, and metadata.

One topic that I found interesting was a posting by a guy who has been keeping a blog since July of 2000. He says he wants to shut down his blog entirely, but he’s worried about the etiquette of doing so…broken links, track back issues, etc. I found myself pondering this as it relates to educational use of technology. What happens when we go through all this effort to build an instructional system that employs such technology as social software. We are inevitably relying on others four our instructional system to work effectively. How wise is this? If a piece of the system (the proverbial link in the chain) breaks, or does not do their intended task, how does this affect the instruction? Could it be a good thing as well? Maybe having learners go through an instructional system that has broken pieces would force them to confront problems and to find solutions. But this can also be very frustrating, for the user and instructional designer alike.

I liked finding postings that were about people and projects I was familiar with. Like one post about Open Learning Support and the Open Courseware initiative. I got to thinking that blogs are really an extension of conversation, which can serve as a form of education and advertising. How many people may never have heard of OLS had it not been for blogs, or perhaps they might not have heard of it as quickly.

I found myself concerned about making comments on other people’s blogs. I almost felt like what I had to say should have some weight to it otherwise why write it, and more especially why attach my name to it. It almost forces blog users and comment posters to really think about what they write because a piece of their reputation is on the line depending on the type of comments posted. Maybe this is strange, but I felt this way. I feel it’s an important note because if there weren’t this feeling the edublogs would have less meat to them and become quite pointless.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Blog Hopping Part 1

Five Blogs I looked at:






I went into this thinking most blogs would have a professional feel to them and weren't just a place for "journal entry" type logs. I found otherwise. Most blogs, apparently, are not an organized forum of information; a place where a person can become updated on someone else's thoughts and trains of thinking; and be connected to a myriad of resources in addition. Some blogs seemed so dull and disorgainzed, I couldn't figure out what the point was (like the first URL I have listed above...maybe my first clue was the title it had:"The dullest blog in the world.") It was just one random post after another.

Thinking about incentives to post a blog, I realized that most that I looked at seemed to have a reason behind them....be it for professional development, or for simply having a place that you can express your opinion in hopes to be heard (lik the second URL above, where the guy posting is ranting almost politically about our current national issues).

I personally liked the blogs with a lot of information, yet with a lot of organization. I like the little calendars showing when posts occured. I like the links to other information. I like the list of who the particular blogger deams worthy of following. It's helpful to know what others are doing, reading, and thinking. I do not like blogs that are simply one post after another of seemingly random thoughts. This is like the third URL post which claims it is the "Official Kerry/Edwards blog." It's just a bunch of people chatting...I wouldn't even consider it a blog.

This brings me to a thoguth of where the line is drawn of blog and threaded discussion. What some people call a blog, I would just call a threaded discussion. Again, like the Kerry/Edwards blog. To me a blog is more than just a record of thoughts or discussions; it is an attempt at making connections that might not have been made before, perhaps like a portal of some kind connecting one person's thought to another's. I'm going to have to think about this some more, obviously, and hope to have come to more clarity by next week's post.