Are Online Reputations Portable?

Posted by: Rob Hof on November 10, 2005

For years, both sellers and buyers on eBay have bellyached about not being able to carry their reputations—the feedback ratings they get from each other on their transactions—to other sites. With some sellers garnering tens of thousands of positive feedbacks (AAAA+++++ fantastic five-star eBayer!!!!!!!!!), they clearly have value to a lot of folks.

Or do they? …

Mary Hodder thinks not, according to a post by Union Square Ventures partner Brad Burnham following an event they held recently. Mary thinks that eBay is such a "bizarre social environment" that reputations earned there don't really mean much anywhere else. And it's true that people aren't always entirely honest in their assessments because they fear retaliation if they give a poor rating.

All this matters far beyond eBay because, as Brad notes, "If value [on the Web] is shifting to trust then a generalized reputation system could theoretically become the organizing principle behind a large and diverse set of web services." If such a system can't work, that would potentially stunt the growth of a lot of services, from blogs to tagging sites like del.icio.us to person-to-person e-commerce sites like Craigslist.

I share Mary's apparent doubts that a single reputation system is workable. But I think the constant demands by people to carry their eBay reputations elsewhere indicates there is a lot of value in them outside eBay's walls--and by extension, other site-specific reputation systems also might be portable to varying degrees.

The thing is, eBay's feedback system doesn't have to be perfect to be valuable. If someone has 3,500 positive ratings and very few negative ones, that does mean something to a lot of people--and it likely would mean something to buyers and sellers on another e-commerce site. That feedback rating won't get you any advance respect at, say, Slashdot, which depends on its own reputation system to determine what tech news gets highest play.

But that's OK. My credit rating, another measure of reputation, doesn't mean anything to my readers. It means a lot, though, to the mortgage broker considering whether to give me a loan.

Context matters for reputations, but it seems to me that trust earned in one place can transfer to other places, even if that transfer entails some kind of reputation discount. The bigger question is whether services such as eBay, which has jealously guarded those feedback ratings from being used by buyers and sellers on other sites, will open up their reputation systems to be used Webwide. Hope so.

Reader Comments

Paul Williams

November 11, 2005 11:15 PM

iKarma.com offers a nice portable reputation solution. Check out the quick tour here http://www.iKarma.com/tour.asp

Dave McClure

November 13, 2005 12:53 PM

i certainly think eBay reputation scores (not to mention PayPal merchant scores from payment transaction histories) are valid indicators of other behavior. while perhaps imperfect, they should certainly be reasonable proxies for predicting merchant / payment behavior in other non-eBay environments, as well as perhaps even correlated indicators for completely unrelated areas.

something like AttentionTrust.org / RootMarkets may in the future give a better prediction, or a firm like Trufina or SXIP may deliver more specific services, but in the meantime proxying identity & reputation from other existing Internet services like TypePad, Blogger, Amazon, or others might be an interesting shortcut.

- dave mcclure
www.SimplyHired.com

Bill Washburn

November 14, 2005 7:24 PM

Yes, there's a big question here about eBay's reputation system. But that big question is not, "WILL eBay open up its reputation system?" The question is, "WHEN, will eBay see the full value of system and open it up for the benefit of everyone using the web?" The web is a massive emergent marketplace giving tremendous power to users, obviously. Still for the web marketplace to become significantly less risky and more civil, risks must be reduced. To manage risks, valid, verifiable ways of assessing trustworthiness will have exist online.

eBay's reputation system has helped enormously with managing some risks. Having an authenticated ecommerce reputation profile that is mobilized (i.e., works everywhere) will help ecommerce specifically and the online realm generally in a massive way. What is needed now are the advancements that companies like Opinity are working on: tools for end-users to manage, build, aggregate, and verify their own reputation profiles. This should include the ability for end users to have distinct reputation profiles that serve them in different contexts, such as: an e-commerce reputation profile, a dating reputation profile, a professional (think of your resume), etc.

At Opinity we believe that as important as the eBay reptuation is, it could be even more important and useful were it visible and influential everywhere on the 'net. Our aspiration is to work with and support, aggregate and make every form of reputation data more valuable and visible and useful to end-users, to the communities they are part of, and to the organizations that end-users rely on online.

Pete Cashmore

November 18, 2005 7:09 AM

Rob,

I posted on this last week, arguing that reputations are indeed portable. But like you say, context is important - an eBay score might not be totally relevant over at Craigslist, but it's better than nothing:

http://mashable.com/2005/11/11/actually-mary-reputations-are-portable/

Em

November 23, 2005 5:46 PM

ebay would block such a script.

chris reed

November 30, 2005 9:52 PM

Affero has been around since 2001. The system is totally virtual. There are over 10,000 members building reputations. In a nutshell, they way it works is the following: A person volunteering online in a forum or chat, who is knowledgeable in a particular subject can answer questions regarding that subject. They can receive comments and ratings. In addition they can receive a donation that can flow to a cause they care about. Here is mine
http://rate.affero.net/creed/LAF/
I have this link in my signature on my email.

SG

April 9, 2008 4:27 AM

eBay reputations can already be used on any site using the Pubble Hill API (www.pubblehill.com). It works almost exactly the same way as feedback systems from eBay and other auction websites etc except it can be used on any website that uses the free API.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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