There was interesting discussion on Twitter the other day (as there often is) about the relationship between identity and reputation. The discussion was in the context of “fake news” but it raised a number of general points about reputation and the reputation economy that are worth reflecting on. One particular point was whether a reputation must link one-to-one with a confirmed identity in order for the reputation to be useful. I think it doesn’t, and I can point to a particular case study which I think triggered a lot of this kind of thinking in my own mind.
Many many years ago in the early days of electronic commerce and digital money and online payments and all those good things, I came across a mailing list (I’m not sure what it was called it at the beginning but it later became known as the e$ list) that I found very useful. The list had links to interesting stories, discussions and very well-informed debate on the then very new topics of money and transactions in an interconnected world. One day, there was a message on the mailing list saying that it was going to be discontinued because the person or people running it couldn’t continue to do it as voluntary effort, so without some form of sponsorship they would have to stop.
Since my colleagues and I found a list very useful we stepped up to the plate and agreed to provide some sponsorship money. The list operator asked us to send the money to an ISP to cover their charges for the next six months or the next year or something. This we did and thus we became sponsors.
mailing lists (sponsored by Hyperion & C2Net Software)
Now, it was only afterwards that I realised that we had just been through a commercial transaction with an entirely unknown counterparty. I didn’t know whether the mailing list was run by a person, a group of students, a rival company or agents of a foreign power trying to collect contact details of key players in the electronic money field. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. The quality of the list established over a period of months (in other words, the reputation of the list) was the necessary ingredient for the transaction to take place. Of course, I later discovered that the list was curated by “Robert Hettinga” but that meant nothing to me and I had no clue whether he was a real personal not (he is: I've met him!).
My point is that reputation is sufficient. I did not know who or what was providing the news, but the news and the discussions were of sufficient quality to merit our money.