A Framework for Studying the Problem of Trust in Online Settings

A Framework for Studying the Problem of Trust in Online Settings

Tina Guenther (Lecturer in Sociology, Founder and Author of Sozlog, Germany) and Guido Möllering (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-901-9.ch002
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The chapter contributes to the conceptual foundations of research on trust in online settings by introducing a framework of the preconditions and constitutive elements of trust. Moving beyond simplistic, narrow, and vague applications of the notion of trust, researchers are enabled by this framework to recognize when trust is relevant and to address a broader range of elements and processes involved in the social constitution of trust. By way of illustration and differentiation, the authors discuss trust issues in online marketplaces and online communities in greater detail. An important message from the chapter is that the problem of trust does not only occur in specific activities on a particular website but, more importantly, through the interconnectedness of the websites used and the development of complex online biographies. Accordingly, the authors advocate research methods that are not only are well-grounded conceptually but also geared praxeologically toward the actual experience and enactment of trust.
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What is commonly called “Web 2.0” and also the “Social Web” – indicating already a new quality of online activities – comprises a wide spectrum of ideas, utopias, and business models. We can distinguish developments in technology, civil society, modes of production, and entrepreneurship that together and in interaction with each other make up the new possibilities of “Web 2.0”.

First, in terms of technology, there are countless new applications such as weblogs, wiki webs, instant messaging, podcasts, RSS, social networking sites, and many more. The new technologies are designed to enable mass user participation and flexible reorganization of applications by users who create and recombine content, code, and metadata (Bruns, 2007; Guenther & Schmidt, 2008; Schmidt, 2006). Second, with this technological empowerment, “Web 2.0” can also denote an optimistic vision of a new civil society and the idea of a neo-Habermasian global public sphere of open discourse where critical discussions are possible, unconventional views can be expressed freely and the power of the state is counter-balanced (see Habermas, [1962]1989). When the barriers to participation in new media are lowered, new arenas for exchanging information and opinions can emerge.

Third, the mode of production associated with “Web 2.0” is supposedly collaborative, heterarchical, and non-profit seeking. The content, code, and metadata going into such ‘open source’ products can challenge the proprietary solutions from the earlier days of the digital age (Benkler, 2006; Lessig, 2004). Fourth, it must be strongly emphasized, though, that the new opportunities are also part of a capitalist project that drives business and entrepreneurship ranging from e-commerce to a wealth of services and products offered by profit-seeking firms and individuals who use, maintain, or enhance the new technologies. It is by becoming more dynamic, integrative, interactive, and recombinant that the world of online media has entered into a new generation without a complete break from the internet of the 1990s.

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