The trusted web: a matter of context

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Chris Lee recently wrote a piece for New Media Knowledge about review sites and when I did an email interview for him, it got me thinking again about the trusted web.

Originally I started thinking about the trusted web as an antedote to the the failures of the taxonomy imposed on web content by traditional web directories like DMoz (the Open Directory Project) and the Yahoo! Directory. The libarian model for the web had broken down and whilst Google was a great leap forward in search from the likes of Excite and Alta Vista it still didn’t address intent in the way that a directory could. The concept of folksonomies seemed to be an antedote to the problem. Tagging allowed everyone to be the librarian and allowed for a richer multi-dimensional data structure which was much more useful than the traditional directory structure.

I was fortunate to work at Yahoo! at a time when these ideas were central to its offerings: flickr, delicious and the MyWeb offerings that subsequently got rolled into Yahoo! Bookmarks.

Two key questions used to come up at this time:

  • Why contribute?
  • Why trust the content that has been contributed?

Why contribute? The answer is all down to social engineering. Carnegie Mellon’s ESP game got consumers to put labels on images by making it fun, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service provides consumers with financial rewards for completing tasks. The most commonly used motivation however is the currency of reputation: this is why Flickr’s community hangs together or why graffiti artists tag trains with their handles.

Cory Doctorow described it most eloquently in his work Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom with the concept of Whuffie the notional currency of his utopian world: Whuffie recaptured the true essence of money: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you wouldn’t starve; contrariwise, if you were rich and hated, no sum could buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really represented — your personal capital with your friends and neighbors — you more accurately gauged your success.

Why trust the content that has been contributed? Generally it boils down to three reasons:

You know the person that you are getting the information from. I recently got recommendations on country music to listen to from tikichris.

You may not know this person but you trust them as an authority. I don’t know Brian Solis personally, but given the amount of soirees I know that he attends through I have a shrewd idea that he would be a good source of information on bars and restaurants in the Bay Area.

This person has a good reputation (this maybe their record on eBay, or the authority of their blog according to Technorati)

But this information has to be available in the right place, at the right time and the right depth. This is what I mean by the context in the title of this post. If I am looking for a restaurant in Singapore to meet a business contact, I would like to have this review available in Dopplr where I do my travel planning. For a restaurant in London that I could arrange a last minute social engagement the brief descriptions provided by is adequate; its 140 characters and a basic rating is all that I need.

Meeting clients for lunch in London is a different context again, I am likely to require more information: is the restaurant quiet enough for business conversations, is there space between the tables and will the food match my client’s expectations. For this, and trustedplaces make ideal candidates.

Graffiti image by cauchisavona