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Reputation management

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Reputation management is the process of tracking an entity's actions and other entities' opinions about those actions; reporting on those actions and opinions; and reacting to that report creating a feedback loop. All entities involved are generally people, but that need not always be the case. Other examples of entities include animals, businesses, or even locations or materials. The tracking and reporting may range from word-of-mouth to statisical analysis of thousands data points.

Reputation management has come into wide use with the advent of widespread computing. Reputation management systems use various predefined criteria for processing complex data to report reputation. However, these systems only facilitate and automate some aspects the process of determing trustworthiness. This process is central to all kinds of human interaction, including interpersonal relationships, international diplomacy, stock markets, and sports.


Real-world communities

Small town

The classic example of reputation management is the small town. Population is small and interactions between members frequent; most interactions are face-to-face and positively identified -- that is, there is no question who said or did what. Reputation accrues not only throughout one's lifetime, but is passed down to one's offspring; one's individual reputation depends both on one's own actions and one's inherited reputation.

There are generally few formal mechanisms to manage this implicit reputation. The town diner and barber shop serve as forums for exchange of gossip, in which community members' reputations are discussed, often in frank terms. Outstanding members may receive small, symbolic awards or titles, but these are mere confirmations of general knowledge.

There is exceedingly little deviation from community norms in a small town. This may be seen as either good or bad; there is little crime, but also little room for dissent or change. The small-town model scales poorly; it depends on each member having enough experience of a large number of other members, and this is only possible up to a point.

Big city

The large metropolitan area is at the other end of the spectrum from the small rural town. Community members come and go daily, and most members are only personally acquainted with a small fraction of the whole. Implicit reputation management continues to work within subcommunities, but for the city as a whole, it cannot.

Big cities have developed a large array of formal reputation management methods. Some apply only to subcommunities, such as, say, an association of local dentists. There are four methods (among others) which apply quite generally to the entire population: elections, appointments, the criminal justice system, and racial or ethnic prejudice.

  • The city is governed in part by elected officials -- persons who are given special powers by popular vote at regular intervals. Campaigns are often well-financed efforts to force a positive image of a candidate's reputation upon the electorate; television is often decisive. Elected officials are primarily concerned with preserving this good reputation, which concern dictates their every public action. Failure to preserve a good reputation, not to mention failure to avoid a bad one, is often cause for removal from office, sometimes prematurely. Candidates and officials frequently concentrate on damaging the reputations of their opponents.
  • Appointed officials are not elected; they are granted special powers, usually by elected officials, without public deliberation. Persons wishing to be appointed to office also campaign to increase their perceived reputation, but the audience is much smaller. Effective actions and demonstrated merit are often important factors in gaining a positive reputation, but the definition of this merit is made by the elected, appointing officials, who tend to evaluate merit as it applies to them, personally. Thus persons who work hard to increase an elected official's reputation increase their own, at least in their patron's eyes. Some appointees have no other qualification beyond the fact that they may be depended on at all times to support their patrons.
  • The stresses of big city life lead to much crime, which demands punishment, on several grounds. The severity of this punishment and of the efforts of the system to inflict it upon a community member depends in no small part on that individual's prior experiences within the system. Elaborate records are kept of every infraction, even of the suspicion of infractions, and these records are consulted before any decision is made, no matter how trivial. Great effort is expended to positively identify members -- driver's licenses and fingerprints, for example -- and any use of an alias is carefully recorded. Some small punishments are meted out informally, but most punishments, especially severe ones, are given only after a long, detailed, and formal process: a trial, which must result in a conviction, or finding of guilt, before a punishment is ordered.
Although it is sometimes said that serving one's punishment is sufficient penalty for the commission of a crime, in truth the damage to one's reputation may be the greater penalty -- damage both within the system itself and within other systems of urban reputation management, such as that of elections to office. Between the explicit punishment and the damage to one's reputation, the total effect of a conviction in the criminal justice system so damages a person's ability to lead a normal life that the process, at least ostensibly, is meticulous in determining guilt or lack thereof. In case of "reasonable" doubt, a suspected malefactor is freed -- though the mere fact of the trial is recorded, and affects his future reputation.
  • The ordinary citizen, meeting a stranger, another citizen unknown to the first, is rarely concerned that the second may be an official, elected or otherwise; even so, he may be aware of the relative failure of reputation management in this regard. He does not have easy access to the database of the criminal justice system, and portions are not publicly available at all. Lacking other means, he often turns to the mock-system of racial or ethnic prejudice. This attempts to extend the small-town model to large communities by grouping individuals who look alike, dress alike, or talk alike. One reputation serves for all. Each individual is free to compose his personal measure of a group's reputation, and actions of strangers raise or lower that reputation for all group members.

The high incidence of crime, the proverbial incompetence of officials, and constant wars between rival, self-identified groups speaks poorly of all systems of urban reputation management. Together, they do not function as well as that of the small town, with no formal system at all.

Online communities


eBay is an online marketplace, a forum for the exchange of goods. The feedback system on eBay asks each user to post his opinion (positive or negative) on the person with whom he transacted. Every place a user's system handle ("ID") is displayed, his feedback is displayed with it.

Since having primarily positive feedback will improve a user's reputation and therefore make other users more comfortable in dealing with him, users are encouraged to behave in acceptable ways -- that is, by dealing squarely with other users, both as buyers and as sellers.

Most users are extremely averse to negative feedback and will go to great lengths to avoid it. There is even such a thing as feedback blackmail, in which a party to a transaction threatens negative feedback to gain an unfair concession. The fear of getting negative feedback is so great that many users automatically leave positive feedback, with strongly worded comments, in hopes of getting the same in return.

The main result of the eBay reputation management system is that buyers and sellers are generally honest. There are abuses, but not to the extent that there might be in a completely open or unregulated marketplace.


Everything2 is a general knowledge base. E2 manages both user and article reputation strongly; one might say it is central to the project's paradigm. Users submit articles, called "writeups", that are published immediately. For each article, each user may cast one vote, positive or negative. Voting is annonymous and each vote cast is final. The article keeps track of its total of postive and negative votes (and the resulting score), all of which can be seen by the submiting user and any user who has already cast their vote on that particular article. Articles with strong positive scores may also be featured on the site's main page, propelling them to even higher scores. Articles with low or negative scores are deleted, hopefully to make way for better articles.

Users themselves are explicitly ranked, using a complicated "level" system loosely based on number of articles submitted (and not deleted) and the overall average article score. Users of higher levels gain various priviledges, the first being the ability to cast votes; any user may submit an article, but only users who have a minimum number of "good" articles may vote.

While E2's system has number of detrimental effects. Many new users leave the site after their first article gets multiple negative votes, and is sometimes then also deleted, all without any explanation required. Even experienced users hesitate to submit less than perfect articles since negative votes cannot be retracted. There are also more direct rewards for users submiting new articles than for revising and improving their existing ones. Finally, many users focus heavily on their position in the hierarchy and pander for positive votes. Fiction and amusing essay-style articles tend dominate over long, difficult, boring, less well-written, or controversial ones. Excellent contributions are still rewarded, but so are merely decent ones and the difference in reward is not proportional to the additional effort.


Slashdot contains little original content, instead revolving around short reviews of content exterior to the site. "Karma" is Slashdot's name for reputation management. "Moderators" are able to vote on both reviews themselves and comments on those reviews in a system not too dissimilar from E2's. In a novel twist, votes are not merely "+1 point" or "-1 point"; moderators also attach one of a list of predefined labels, such as Flamebait or Informative.

Score is displayed next to each comment. Additionally, any user may set a personal preference to exclude the display of comments with low scores. Users acquire "karma" based, among other things, on the scores of their comments, and karma affects a user's powers. Almost any user may become a moderator, although this status is temporary; thus the average user is not able to vote on any comment. Once a moderator uses up his votes, he returns to the status of ordinary user.

Slashdot has become extremely popular and well-read; used as a verb, it refers to the fact that a website mentioned in Slashdot is often overwhelmed with visitors. There is frequent criticism of Slashdot, on many grounds; the karma system is intentionally not transparent and trolling has become not merely an art in itself, but an institution, a house of many rooms. Anonymous cowards are permitted and range freely, as do sock puppets.

Nonetheless, Slashdot's karma system may account for at least part of its endurance and popularity.

Meatball Wiki

Meatball is a wiki devoted to discussion of online communities, including wikis themselves; thus, it is a "metawiki". Its membership is not large. Meatball permits anonymous users, but relegates them to an inferior status: "If you choose not to introduce yourself, it's assumed you aren't here to participate in exchanging help, but just to 'hang out.'" [1]

While anonymous posters are tolerated, pseudonymous users are not. Thus online handles are supposed to mirror users' real names – their names in the outside world, on their birth certificates. The control on this is not rigorous – users are not required to fax in their passports in order to verify their identities – but the convention is supposed to be generally followed; at least it is not openly mocked.

Thus identified, Meatball's users' reputations are managed much as they are in the small town. That is, there is little formal management, but every user carries in his head his own "score", according to his own rating system, based on his personal evaluation of a given other user's character. This implicit reputation system is, of course, a part of every online community in which handles or names of any kind are used; but in Meatball, it is the whole.

Despite (or because of?) this lack of formal method, Meatball has discussed the problems of reputation management extensively. We will not attempt to link to every relevant page, but one might begin to explore that discussion here.


Wikipedia is an encyclopedia-content wiki; it includes a very wide range of topics, and exclusion of almost any topic is disputed. There is a large number of community members. Anonymous users are welcomed, and most users are pseudonymous, though many do use real names. As in many online communities, some users are sock puppets, although these are discouraged.

Wikipedia, like Meatball or the small town, has no formal method for managing reputation. Barnstars may be awarded for merit, but any user may make such an award. There is a hierarchy of users, such as in Slashdot or Everything2; but it is obscure, coarsely graded, and downplayed. It is not even clear who has been granted what powers, or what a user must do to rise to which level. As in most wikis, there is an elaborate history feature, which may be explored by any user to determine which contributions were made by which users. Any user may examine a list of another user's contributions. Edits may be discussed in a variety of forums, but there is no particular grading or rating system, either for edits or community members.

Wikipedia's size, stature, and growing prominence in the larger world have attracted many users -- some of them troublesome. The small-town method, where reputation is managed implicitly, has begun to break down; it is no longer possible for any one user to know the majority of other users, to have any sort of personal opinion on all of them. The community has responded by developing, ad hoc, reputation management techniques borrowed from other, existing systems.

Search Engine Reputation Management

Search Engine Reputation Management (or SERM) tactics are often employed by companies to proactively shield their brands from damaging content brought to light through search engine queries. Some use these same tactics reactively, in attempts to minimize damage inflicted by inflammatory (or "flame") websites (and weblogs) launched by consumers and, as some believe, competitors.

Given the increasing popularity and development of search engines, these tactics have become more important than ever. Consumer generated media (like blogs) has amplified the public's voice, making points of view - good or bad - easily expressed.

Search Engine Reputation Management strategies include Search engine optimization (SEO) and Online Content Management. Because search engines are dynamic and in constant states of change and revision, it is essential that results are constantly monitored.

See also

  • Whuffie, reputation as a network-based currency in a Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar
  • EigenTrust
  • Online identity
  • Reputation system

External links

  • Shirky:A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy
  • Slashdot-Wikipedia Reaches Half a Million Articles
  • may be the case that we have to figure out how to make the Wikipedia good, because that’s all there’s going to be.
  • Jimbo Wales at Stanford, February 2005
  • Metawiki:Article validation
  • scale further a reputation system may be required for this network...
  • (First Monday) Phantom Authority
  • (First Monday) Manifesto for the Reputation Society
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