The Reputation Guy


eCommerce, Part 1

Posted in Online Reputation by thereputationguy on March 21, 2006

As I mentioned earlier, given the size and broad usage of eBay, and their feedback system, the need to establish a reputation to conduct ecommerce is a readily graspable concept for most people.

In comparision with Community, people who want to have a reputation in this space must give up some personal information – perhaps only simply stuff like location, email address and other non-personally identifying information, but many cases they disclose more.

A view of the different types of reputation systems on the web, detailed analysis in another posting –

ebay.com – Their rating system is fairly simple – “Positive”, “Neutral”, or “Negative”.

Sample:

Feedback score: 963
Positive Feedback: 99.9%
Members who left a positive: 964
Members who left a negative: 1
All positive feedback received: 987
Member since: Feb-19-02
Bid Retractions (Past 6 months): 0

eBay's system is the best known on the web.

But it doesn't provide a complete picture. One of the issues facing eBay's feedback system is the fear of retaliation. I've been seeing a lot of ads on ebay that state that they will leave negative feedback if the buyer leaves negative feedback for them. Personally I like this because it allows me to instantly narrow down the list on who to buy from. Having such a statement is inappropriate at best.

Overstock – They use a 1 – 5 rating system with thumbs up or down (Bad, Poor, Normal, Good, Excellent). They also have a personal rating system. Somehow I have a 5 out of 5 even though I didn't do anything except accept an unsolicated request to be friends from someone I don't know. I guess in absence of high volume sales to create a professional reputation, this becomes some kind of sudo reputation. Weak at best, could be argued misleading because unless you know how it's created (recepients can delete the rating), buyers might put more weight into it than appropriate.

Sample:
Commerce Rating: 212.0 [100% Positive]
Transaction Summary: Total # of Transactions: 253 Repeat rating: 312/178/43%
Personal rating: 5.0 (rated by 87 people)

The percentage is interesting, it shows how many of the customers were repeat customers. I agree there's no further validation of a good seller than the number of repeat customers. Kudos to Overstock for showing such a great number.

amazon.com – It's kinda strange how they ask people to rate their experience with 1 – 5, then turn around and reduce it to a 1-3 rating system. This is what they do: Positive Feedback: 5 or 4 stars, Neutral Feedback: 3 stars, Negative Feedback: 2 or 1 stars.

Sample:

Feedback Rating (Last 365 Days): (82) 4.9 out of 5 based on 82 ratings
Feedback Rating (Lifetime): (372) 4.9 out of 5 based on 372 ratings
See all seller feedback (372)
Amazonian Since: March 2003

Yahoo Auctions – They use a similar “Positive”, “Neutral”, or “Negative” as eBay. and a small comment field.
Sample:

Rating: 187 (198 positive ratings and 0 negative ratings)
198 auctions with positive comments by 187 unique users
0 auctions with negative comments by 0 unique users
1 auctions with neutral comments by 1 unique users

It's basically the same as eBay's, except they more clearly show that the figures count unique users instead of all purchases. I have mixed thoughts on whether this is good or bad.

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Community, Part II

Posted in Online Reputation by thereputationguy on February 16, 2006

This is a continuation of my earlier discussion on Community.

I’m looking to address (but perhaps not solve) two questions I raised – what would make a strong reputation system within a Community, and how would you decide when / what to use?

Let’s start out looking at our options of a reputation system.

slashdot.com – has a karma system based on a moderator’s view point of the quality of your participation. It has 6 levels to it – “Terrible, Bad, Neutral, Positive, Good, and Excellent.”

livingwithstyle.com – allows people to get “style points” through of participation. Nothing unique here. But what’s interesting is how they let people use them, they can use their style points to “buy” an avatar, change their title, donate them to another, as well as a multitude of other things. This is worth noting because it encourages participation.

omidyar.net – Their feedback system is interesting for a couple of different reasons. One is it allows for either a “positive” or a “negative” vote. Most reputations that use a user-on-user voting system only has a positive type of voting. But the thing I like most is their concept of a “bank” of points. You use a point to give feedback (positive or negative), and get points for participation. What I like about this is the concept of “scarcity”. But making your ability to give feedback scarce, you create value behind it. This value creates awareness and encourages more thought behind it’s use, and hopefully encourages it’s use as well.

There are more variations possible (including as noted before Opinity’s 1-5 rating system), but the above three covers a pretty good range.

We should also note that we’re talking about reputation specifically given to the author, rather than a specific post. For example, you can label a post “helpful” or “not helpful”, and sites like msn have a 1-5 rating system for each news story, but I’m focusing on systems that are attached to the online ID and not their posts directly.

Any system that is used has to be natural. As I discussed earlier, most members of communities have a personal attachment to that community, so any kind of reputation system has to be careful not to create worthless damage.

Other communities that bring strangers together, for example Yahoo Answers, allows strangers to ask other strangers for their advice. These loose couplings of can make use of a more objective and detailed reputation system.

I believe the answer to what should be implemented where is two fold – one is simply whatever the community members would want and need to continue building a vibrant community, and two as people become more comfortable with having an online reputation, the appropriate system will evolve over time.

As I continue my research, I’m looking forward to the day I can publish something as comprehensive as Kim Cameron’s The Laws of Identity. This of course is an iterative process that will take a while, but a journey I’m looking forward to.

Community

Posted in Online Reputation by thereputationguy on February 13, 2006

At first glance, when compared to ecommerce and dating, community comes up as both the most vague in regards to reputation needs as well as how to help people establish a reputation.

Fortunately Opinity is partnering with a very large partner that will give us a tremendous boast in this area. So I’ve been spending a lot of time on this segment of the market. We’ve conducted market research, and had others write papers about reputation in community. One of the papers we received was very well written. I forget off the top of my head what terminology he used, but it was something that sounded scientific and doctorial thesis-like, but upon examination he was referring to something that acts as a proxy in most communities for reputation – “number of posts” and “member since”.

This is what most communities rely on for a reputation – how active they are and how long they’ve been active. Granted this is not really a reputation system, because at best it simply states that the user, for a specified duration, hasn’t been a pain in the butt enough for the moderator, based on their own values, to decide to ban them. I would guess that’s true for 95% of the communities out there.

So, despite the fact it’s not that much, is there a need for something more? In some cases it’s more than sufficient. I’m not one of those Product Managers who feels compelled to believe their product should be immediately loved and used by everyone just because it can be. I am a leader of a 100+ online community – a Yahoo group that communicates via email and uses no explicit reputation system. So this means that a person’s reputation is independently evaluated by each individual, and not disclosed to others, with no way to disclose this to others. So is this a bad thing? Perhaps not.

In some cases I could see a reputation system, depending on what it was, how implemented and how used, as possibly having a detrimental effect on the group. In our market research on ecommerce, one of the issues that often came up was retribution. The ecommerce boards (e.g. OTWA) are full of these concerns and experiences. Given my own experience within various communities, I could see this easily happening. In vibrant communities, it’s common for the community to take on quite a personal feeling. This is where they hang out, be with close, long-time, personal (though mostly virtual) friends. What if you have a party in your home where all your friends show up, and someone decides to announce to the whole crowd that while you try to help, you are essentially clueless?

We currently have a rating system (evaluate someone from 1-5 based on certain characteristics) for all our reputation areas. So it’s possible given our current system for the above example to happen. So this raises two questions – what, if any, reputation system would work in a community, and two, what parameters decide what reputation system to use?

The need

Posted in Online Reputation by thereputationguy on February 11, 2006

Before we talk about how such a system can be manifested, we need to discuss what exactly we’re trying to do. What is the need for a globally accessible reputation system?

Well, the easiest scenario to explain would be ecommerce. Given it takes place online and you have no idea who’s on the other end, an established reputation is invaluable. Generally when ecommerce sellers consider a tool, service or something being promoted to them, it comes down to whether it increases ASP (average selling price) and the conversion rate (lookers becomes buyers). Here’s where reputation comes in, it can increase both ASP and the conversion rate.

Another space where reputation is clearly needed yet not quite as prevalent is online dating. Should be no surprises here. If you’re going to date someone, you would want some assurances of who you’ll be meeting when you see them face-to-face for the first time.

Opinity also has “Community”. It seems that Community is more of catchall term than an actual classification of unique reputation requirements. We list “gaming” separately, but besides the size of this segment, it’s just another community that’s formed around a specific activity. What’s the need for reputation in community? Good question, and I’ll try to answer that in a separate posting since is an entire subject onto itself.

Welcome to The Reputation Guy’s blog

Posted in Online Reputation by thereputationguy on February 11, 2006

Welcome to my little section of the web.

I will be spending most of my time discussing the sphere of bringing a globally accessible reputation system to the Web. So a fair question would be what exactly is a globally accessible reputation system? First of all, this is not the exact terminology used by my employer, Opinity. We spend a fair amount of time just discussing what the right wording and phrasing are.

To apply a simplistic viewpoint on what a “globally accessible reputation system” is, it simply provides a means for people, who are online, to become something more than a complete nobody.

I should be clear upfront – this does not necessarily mean giving up any personal information. It’s entirely possible for a person, within a community (e.g. forum), to have a very well-known, strong, well-respected reputation, yet the community may know nothing personal about the poster. In practice of course the poster tends to divulge personal information as a matter of course, but does not necessarily affect their standing in that community. Areas where the user may feel the need to disclose more would be activities like ecommerce, dating and other activities that requires a high degree of trust of an “online identity”, but Opinity leaves the final decision to the user.

My focus will be away from a lot of the high-level philosophical discussions that are going on, and will instead discuss how to actually make such a system work in practice.