Over the weekend, Mike Arrington put up an interesting op-ed on the state of the reputation on the Internet — and Techcrunch then followed up with a fairly negative review of a site ( GetUnvarnished.com) that just launched. The gist of the posts is that these sites will primarily become scaleable defamation platforms, and if Arrington is right, we all need to hope that society learns to disregard indiscretions.
Surely, on today’s Internet, we’re all potential victims of some “wingnut” saying something horrible about us, or some random picture of some indiscretion making it to the Internet and ruining our careers. The problem is that any and all information that ever existed is making it to the Net. Compounding the problem is the existence of the real-time web, its exploding communities of people sharing all of their thoughts and uploading content at will. What we’re quickly finding is that in some regards the Internet acts as a cesspool of information where lies and libel can ruin people’s reputation. And even with regards to legitimate, accurate content about people or entities, the Net is becoming too noisy for the crisp signal that we’re actually looking to get from it.
But what happens when an accurate, high signal-to-noise reputation system for people rolls out? A service designed to take in all the public information about a person, encourage reviews of that person, sift through and moderate each profile toward the most accurate picture of that person (including progressive moderation that has a slight lean toward empathy of the reviewed). The value could be huge. HR departments already check criminal history before hiring, but what if they could get an accurate picture of someone’s reputation in the workplace? What if, before you did a meeting with someone you didn’t know, you had a tool that went far beyond a simple Google search, and had lengthy reviews of that person across all his colleagues, partners, bosses, employees? You knew his weaknesses and strengths, and what to watch out for in a partnership with him.
What would happen is that this hypothetical site would take off. The value it provides its users would be huge, and it would quickly become a *necessary* tool for professionals. But it would only be valuable as long as it can do a great job of providing *accurate* information and reputation scoring. Why? Because a reputation site that has a bad reputation itself is worthless. What long-term value is a site which has a reputation of being an information cesspool? It gets old, becomes a lame gossip site, and I move on (like the unmoderated financial/stock commenting sites).
Now some of us may hate that all of this information gets out there, that all of these reviews are so easily created, that we are so exposed to the public… that cheating on a wife, or a business colleague no longer can happen in the dark, but hyper-transparency is the world we are increasingly living in and we all better get used to it. The silver lining is that services pedaling hate, libel, and gossip will be marginalized as forms of entertainment if they’re lucky or will whither altogether. There is simply too much value (and revenue oppty) in accurate reputations for the inaccurate ones to keep up.
The sites/services/platforms in this category that win are those that turn the real-time noise into something valuable. The services that can provide the most accurate view for the consumers of the reviews–along with some level of empathy and recourse for the reviewed–will win. All data will be out there, and truth shall ultimately win, because truth is so much more valuable than falsehoods. Add to that a comfortable place for the reviewed to interject “their side of the story”, and the service becomes the trustworthy truth and accountability platform.
So what about Arrington who says reputation is dead, and that society will change to accept indiscretions? I think what Arrington was really saying was that managing reputation by omission of facts is dead. But I think that reputation is anything but dead, and instead will become more important than ever. With more data and info getting on the net, and as the tools to decipher fact from fiction get better, reputation becomes more accurate, and significantly more valuable. We can, fortunately, breathe a sigh of relief that value is in fact and not in fiction; that hating, and libel and lies get pushed out b/c of their relative paucity of value. But we are fooling ourselves into thinking that indiscretions will be completely forgotten–the best case is that the most common indiscretions get pushed off the indiscretion list. Its just that those of us that are adults right now are carrying an old belief that what happens in the past stays there. That’s a luxury that is about to die and we all better get used to it.