Electronic Reputation Systems

Electronic Reputation Systems

Mario Paolucci (LABSS-ISTC-CNR, Italy), Stefano Picascia (LABSS-ISTC-CNR, Italy) and Samuele Marmo (LABSS-ISTC-CNR, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-384-5.ch023
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Reputation is a social control artefact developed by human communities to encourage socially desirable behaviour in absence of a central authority. It is widely employed in online contexts to address a number of dilemmas that the interaction among strangers can raise. This chapter presents a social-cognitive theory as a framework to describe the dynamics of reputation formation and spreading. In Section 2, we examine the technology of reputation as implemented in some popular Web platforms, testing theory predictions about the tendency towards either a rule of courtesy or a rule of prudence in evaluation reporting, and thus trying to better understand the outcomes that each system promotes and inhibits.
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Internet reputation systems are fascinating technologies. They employ an ancient artefact of mankind to enforce social order - based on traditional social remedies such as word of mouth and chatty talk (Dunbar, 1998)- to regulate a variety of digitally networked environments in absence of central authority.

Reputation appeared online as soon as the Internet became context for social interaction: the more the diffusion of the Net transferred online social problems once limited to the brick and mortar world, the more new flavours of that ancient artefact arose, shaped to fit in online settings to perform a distributed regulation role.

First came electronic markets: the earliest widespread setting to feature an ad-hoc designed “reputation” technology was the eBay feedback forum, developed in 1996 by Pierre Omidyar (Li, 2006). No central authority exists, in online auction websites, to provide enforcement of contracts stipulated by perfect strangers, possibly located thousands of miles away. Sellers advertise goods the quality of which the buyers can’t verify: information asymmetry should drive the market to an adverse selection condition, turning it into a market for lemons, as Akerlof (1970) described in a classical paper. That has not been the case in eBay, and in our view this is due to the technology of reputation that helps addressing the problem by signalling cheaters and defecting users.

The process of decentralization / user-empowerment that took place on the web, which represents the most remarkable Web2.0 effect, generated new contexts of sociality, and is often said to have turned the medium itself into a “public space” (Lovink, 2007) or a “network public sphere” opposed to the traditional mass-mediated public-sphere (Benkler, 2006). Social web applications, collaborative environments, let alone weblogs, projected self-motivated, variously-networked individualities over this public space interacting by the means of a digitised flavour of word of mouth. These individuals produce and deliver content, exchange ideas and goods, rate products and engage in a broad range of social activities. Reputation plays a fundamental role in the emerging social architectures built upon the wisdom of crowds principle.

In the following, we summarise the social-cognitive theory of reputation developed by Conte and Paolucci (2002) that accounts for dynamics of evaluation circulation in natural societies. We will later employ such theory to investigate online implementations of reputation, in order to gain insights on the possible biases that online reputation applications can undergo and their effects.

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