Universal Reputation Rating Systems: The Future of Trust in a Networked Society?

By John Light | P2P Connects Us

Trust is the glue that holds communities together, and how trust is earned and lost in society is currently undergoing some radical changes. In her 2012 TED talk entitled “The currency of the new economy is trust,” Rachel Botsman made the bold prediction that one’s reputation online will soon be as closely guarded as one’s bank account.

While this hasn’t yet panned out for everyone on the net, we’re starting to see a trend of start-ups that are trying to create a Universal Reputation Rating platform which internet users can connect their various social profiles to in order to create a holistic view of their reputation online. With these platforms, users are able to link together their various online identities and be held accountable for their actions across multiple networks.

When a user with a solid reputation rating joins a new network, they can link to their Universal Reputation Rating and immediately establish a certain amount of trust with people who respect the criteria of the rating service used.

This has the effect of allowing people to move in and out of online communities without sacrificing the hard work that goes into building a solid reputation on the net. The implications this has for society are truly (r)evolutionary*.

Traditionally, governments have used their assumed monopoly over the provision of justice to arbitrate disputes amongst people within their jurisdiction. Nowadays, this function can be largely decentralized via peer-to-peer (p2p) reputation and arbitration systems, and supplemented by general information available via social networks. Every individual participating in the networked p2p economy chooses the trust level they’re comfortable with and adjusts the amount of background information they give out and expect from others accordingly.

If someone wants to do business with a user but does not meet that users’ trust threshold, then no transaction will likely take place. Users could choose to make individual exceptions, or set a filter to completely block or ignore requests from unqualified solicitors.

This individualization allows all users in a community to settle into a comfort zone without making the sacrifices or compromises that often come with relying on monopolized, one-size-fits-all reputation systems created or regulated by the State (such as criminal records or credit scores).

What we are beginning to see is the emergence of a new socioeconomic and sociopolitical paradigm. With private 3rd-party entities providing the criteria and platform for building trust and reputation on and off the internet, as well as arbitrating disputes on a case-by-case basis, what does this mean for the provision of justice in society?

Is the State’s long-standing monopoly on this vital social service slowly-but-surely being made obsolete by technology, similar to how p2p file-sharing has disruptively broken the State’s “intellectual property” monopoly, Bitcoin is challenging the State’s money monopoly, and ride-sharing applications are challenging the long-standing Taxi-token racket? Only time will tell, but if history is any indication, I would say that technology, freedom of choice, and the momentum of human progress will win in the end.

F. Randall Farmer, author of the book “Building Web Reputation Systems,” has said that having “one karma to rule them all” is a mistake. He asserts that reputation is always in context, and the narrower the context, the better and more accurate the karma score will be. We will explore this and other criticisms of Universal Reputation Rating systems in my next blog post.

Postscript: On the left side of my blog, you’ll see a widget that says “My Trustcloud Profile,” which is my first attempt at using a Universal Reputation Rating platform. It is so far the easiest to use and most aesthetically pleasing service I have had experience with. I will do a compare-and-contrast of the Universal Reputation Rating platforms which are currently available in a future blog post.

*The word “revolutionary” means many things to many people, so I put the “r” in parentheses to denote that this advancement in reputation technology is leading towards an evolution in the way humans interact and develop trust-based relationships.


John Light is an eager participant of the Peer-to-Peer economy. Specializing in Bitcoin, personal cryptography tools, and social media marketing. Interested in using technology to help solve the world’s most urgent problems. Catch him on the bleeding edge.