MIT Press book “The Reputation Society” (containing a chapter by me) is out!

The MIT Press I contributed to with a chapter is out! It is titled “The Reputation Society: how online opinions are reshaping the offline world” and edited by Hassan Masum and Mark Tovey.
It is available on MIT press and on Amazon.
The chapter I wrote is titled Trust It Forward: Tyranny of the Majority or Echo Chambers? and on it I ramble about objectivity/subjectivity, minorities/majorities, etc.

If reputation systems weight all perspectives similarly, they may devolve into simple majority rule. But if they give each user reputation scores that take only other similar users’ opinions into account, they run the risk of becoming “echo chambers” in which like-minded people reinforce each others’ views without being open to outside perspectives. Massa discusses design choices and trust metrics that may help balance these two extremes and the broader implication for our future societies.

the reputation society book cover The book received endorsements by people I really admire.
“As our societies expand from local villages to global networks, our ways of assessing and sharing reputation—the foundation of trust and community—must also evolve, but how? The thoughtful and thought-provoking essays in The Reputation Society bring a wide range of perspectives to this question, including the design of technological solutions, applications in philanthropy, science and governance, and warnings about the loss of privacy and autonomy. It is a fascinating collection of readings not only for scholars, but for anyone interested in the dynamics of the reviews and recommendations that shape our decisions—or in the future of how we will judge and be judged.”
Judith Donath, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

“Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. These provocative essays, by some of the leading thinkers in the domain of reputation systems, illuminate how reputations regulate actions across time and social distance and point to the opportunities and obstacles that reputation systems present for commerce and democracy.”
Paul Resnick, Professor, University of Michigan School of Information

“The Reputation Society enriches the discussion of reputation by bringing together technologists, philosophers, legal scholars, and industry leaders to sort through the promise and perils we face today. It covers the practical, for those interested in the nuts and bolts of the challenges we face today, and the theoretical, for those looking to engage in broader discussions of the ethical and moral concerns. In short, a terrific and enlightening read!”
Danielle Keats Citron, Professor of Law, University of Maryland School of Law

The list of my co-authors is also very delightful.
Trust, reputation systems, and the immune system of democracy / Craig Newmark
Building the reputation society / Hassan Masum, Mark Tovey, & Yi-Cheng Zhang
Designing reputation systems for the social web / Chrysanthos Dellarocas
Web reputation systems and the real world / Randy Farmer
An inquiry into effective reputation and rating systems / John Henry Clippinger
The biology of reputation / John Whitfield
Regulating reputation / Eric Goldman
Less regulation, more reputation / Lior Strahilevitz
The role of reputation systems in managing online communities / Cliff Lampe
Attention philanthropy : giving reputation a boost / Alex Steffen
Making use of reputation systems in philanthropy / Marc Maxson & Mari Kuraishi
The measurement and mismeasurement of science / Michael Nielsen
Usage-based reputation metrics in science / Victor Henning, Jason Hoyt, and Jan Reichelt
Open access and academic reputation / John Willinsky
Reputation-based governance and making states “legible” to their citizens / Lucio Picci
Trust it forward : tyranny of the majority or echo chambers? / Paolo Massa
Rating in large-scale argumentation systems / Luca Iandoli, Josh Introne, & Mark Klein
Privacy, context, and oversharing : reputational challenges in a Web 2.0 world / Michael Zimmer & Anthony Hoffman
The future of reputation networks / Jamais Cascio
“I hope you know this is going on your permanent record” / Madeline Ashby & Cory Doctorow.

The cover of the book reads as follows.

In making decisions, we often seek advice. Online, we check Amazon recommendations, eBay vendors’ histories, TripAdvisor ratings, and even our elected representatives’ voting records. These online reputation systems serve as filters for information overload. In this book, experts discuss the benefits and risks of such online tools.

The contributors offer expert perspectives that range from philanthropy and open access to science and law, addressing reputation systems in theory and practice. Properly designed reputation systems, they argue, have the potential to create a “reputation society,” reshaping society for the better by promoting accountability through the mediated judgments of billions of people. Effective design can also steer systems away from the pitfalls of online opinion sharing by motivating truth-telling, protecting personal privacy, and discouraging digital vigilantism.

Trust in the algorithm or in the human social process? Google, Wikipedia and Points of View.

Very interesting interview of Google News director at NiemanLab.
Krishna Bharat ponders about POVs (Point of View).
“many perspectives coming together can be much more educational than singular points of view”. Ok, I agree.
“You really want the most articulate and passionate people arguing both sides of the equation.” Ok.
“Then, technology can step in to smooth out the edges and locate consensus.” Technology to step in starts to become less agreeable. For doing what? For telling me the truth? What is the most consensual representation of facts?
“That is the opportunity that having an objective, algorithmic intermediary provides you”.
This is the point that I really don’t like. Shall we rely on the algorithmic objectivity to form our visions of world facts? Interestingly this is how Google was “casting” its algorithm for many years: “PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web” or “be based on impartial and objective relevance criteria.
The interview goes on with “If you trust the algorithm to do a fair job and really share these viewpoints, then you can allow these viewpoints to be quite biased if they want to be.” and Trusting in the algorithm means trusting in the tacit completeness of the automation it offers to readers.”
Now, I think it is a bit scary that a corporation asks you to trust the objective, algorithmic intermediary they provide to you (with the goal of making money, which is of course totally acceptable per se).

Actually I agree with Ken Thompson that in “Reflections on Trusting Trust” (Communication of the ACM, Vol. 27, No. 8, August 1984, pp. 761-763) claimed You can’t trust code that you did not totally create yourself. (It it very pertinent also that in the paper the very next sentence is Especially code from companies that employ people like me).

As last point, I would like to say that I prefer to trust the transparent social process that happens, for example, on Wikipedia. On pages such as “Climate Change” hundreds of different editors participate and, even if Wikipedia policy asks to write from a Neutral Point of View, it is undeniable that many of them have strong POVs. This is very visible on controversial pages such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for example.
What I prefer of Wikipedia, over the objective, algorithmic intermediary provided by Google, is the fact the process is carried out by humans (this is not completely true since there are many automatic bots on Wikipedia but currently they perform mainly maintenance tasks) and, more importantly, the fact you can analyze the complete history of edits (and who made them) that brought each article to its current state. Moreover, if you don’t agree with the current framing of a concept, you can get involved and contribute your POV by editing the page or discussing it in the related talk page.
Let me highlight also how the FAQ about Neutral Point of View on Wikipedia clearly states that “the NPOV policy says nothing about objectivity. In particular, the policy does not say that there is such a thing as objectivity in a philosophical sense—a “view from nowhere” (to use Thomas Nagel’s phrase), such that articles written from that viewpoint are consequently objectively true.”
Let me conclude with the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi which in “La ginestra” (Wild Broom) was lamenting “le magnifiche sorti e progressive” (the “magnificent and progressive fate”) of the human race. I think we should do it all a bit more than we currently do instead of embracing algorithmic objectivity.

Image: Giacomo Leopardi from Wikipedia (in the public domain)

My invited talk at Future Networked Technologies event

Few days ago I gave an invited talk at the the Future Networked Technologies event in Graz.
It was organized by FIT-IT, the largest Austrian national public funding programme for research in information technology, for the opening of competitive calls for collaborative research projects, in 3 areas: Semantic Systems and Services, Trust in IT Systems and Visual Computing.

It was not an easy task being inspirational for many different researchers coming from these 3 different backgrounds.
I talked about what I did during my PhD Thesis (work on trust metrics and trust-aware recommender systems), about what we are doing in my research group SoNet (research on social networks in Wikipedia and about Enterprise2.0) and a bit about my research institute, FBK. I used the research lines I work(ed) on as motivating examples for what I advocated today research should be: interoperable on the open web and aimed at creating services for real users.
Examples I pointed at toward the end (all of them related to Semantic Systems and services” call) were: DBpedia, Microformats, RDFa, LinkedData.

The slides of my talk are embedded below:

The meeting was very interesting. There were around 40 or 50 researchers from Austria. I got a chance to talk with some of them after my talk and got interesting feedback and suggestions. I hope I gave them some food for thought.
Among the projects I discovered (funded in the past by FIT-IT) I particularly liked:
* DYONIPOS – DYnamic ONtology based Integrated Process OptimiSation (which is more impressive than the website would make you imagine, and more importantly it was used and evaluated empirically by the Austrian Ministry of Finance).
* Caleydo, an innovative Visualization Framework for Gene Expression Data in its Biological Context (below a demo of it).

US wants to find Trust detector

IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, another US agency) has a 5 years project for finding “Tools for Recognizing Useful Signals of Trustworthiness (TRUST) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)“.
The overarching goal for the IARPA TRUST Program is to significantly advance the IC’s capabilities to assess whom can be trusted under certain conditions and in contexts relevant to the IC, potentially even in the presence of stress and/or deception. The TRUST Program seeks to conduct high-risk, high-payoff research that will bring together sensing AND validated protocols to develop tools for assessing trustworthiness by using one’s own (“Self”) signals to assess another’s (“Other”) trustworthiness under certain conditions and in specific contexts, which can be measured in ecologically-valid, scientifically-credible experimental protocols.
(via Bruce Schneier)

Clay Shirky on trust, Web, algorithms, authority.

An insightful essay by Clay Shirky on trust, Web, algorithms, authority. Clay Shirky is able to put in few clear words what I’ve been trying to tell for years.

Khotyn is a small town in Moldova. That is a piece of information about Eastern European geography, and one that could be right or could be wrong. You’ve probably never heard of Khotyn, so you have to decide if you’re going to take my word for it. (The “it” you’d be taking my word for is your belief that Khotyn is a town in Moldova.)
Do you trust me? You don’t have much to go on, and you’d probably fall back on social judgement — do other people vouch for my knowledge of European geography and my likelihood to tell the truth? Some of these social judgments might be informal — do other people seem to trust me? — while others might be formal — do I have certification from an institution that will vouch for my knowledge of Eastern Europe? These groups would in turn have to seem trustworthy for you to accept their judgment of me. (It’s turtles all the way down.)

An authoritative source isn’t just a source you trust; it’s a source you and other members of your reference group trust together.

authority is a social agreement, not a culturally independent fact.

Thanks to the post, I also came to know about “it’s turtles all the way down” (from Wikipedia)

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

And you are reading this … because you trust me, I trust Wikipedia, you trust Wikipedia, you trust the fact if I told you that this comes from Wikipedia, you trust this comes from Wikipedia servers, you trust Wikipedia servers don’t change the content of their pages randomly or adhocly, you trust that the link I placed there is a real link to Wikipedia, you trust that what you see on the screen is the result of computers running as they should, you trust that your web browser works the way you think it works in showing you the content from my blog, you trust that the Internet routers long the way did not inserted additional information, …

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Trust research and Nobel prize

Elinor Ostrom got the Nobel prize for Economics!
I think I read some of her insights about trust and reciprocity! Check her book “Trust and reciprocity: interdisciplinary lessons from experimental research”!
She is also the first woman to win the Nobel prize in Economics!

From her wikipedia page:
Ostrom is considered one of the leading scholars in the study of common pool resources. In particular, Ostrom’s work emphasizes how humans and ecosystems interact to provide for long run sustainable resource yields. Forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and irrigation systems, among others, all exhibit the characteristics of common pool resources and Ostrom’s work has highlighted how humans have created diverse institutional arrangements over natural resources for thousands of years that have prevented ecosystem collapse. Yet, Ostrom is quick to point out that, while successes are abundant, humans are also responsible for countless ecosystem collapses. Her current work emphasizes the multifaceted nature of human-ecosystem interaction and argues against any singular “panacea” attempt to solve individual social-ecological system problems.

Paper by Lada Adamic “Surfing a web of trust: reputation and reciprocity on CouchSurfing.com”

Author: :en:User:Sadi Carnot; Made using MS Wo...
Image via Wikipedia

By Debra Lauterbach; Hung Truong; Tanuj Shah; Lada A. Adamic
Download as PDF

Abstract: Reputation mechanisms are essential for online transactions, where the parties have little prior experience with one another. This is especially true when transactions result in offline interactions. There are few situations requiring more trust than letting a stranger sleep in your home, or conversely, staying on someone else’s couch. Couchsurfing.com allows individuals to do just this. The global CouchSurfing network displays a high degree of reciprocal interaction and a large strongly connected component of individuals surfing the globe. This high degree of interaction and reciprocity among participants is enabled by a reputation system that allows individuals to vouch for one another. We find that the strength of a friendship tie is most predictive of whether an individual will vouch for another. However, vouches based on weak ties outnumber those between close friends. We discuss these and other factors that could inform a more robust reputation system.

Notes: Can an online social network build enough trust to allow strangers to sleep on each others’ couches?

Linus about network of trust in software development (git)

Transcript of the last part:
“It is how we think.
We don’t know a hundred people. We have 5, 7, 10 close personal friends. Well, we are geeks, so we have 2.
But that’s basically how humans work that we have these people we really trust, it’s family, it’s close friends.
It really fits, you don’t even have to have a mental model, it fits how we are wired up.
So there are huge advantages on this model of networks of trust.”

Trust crevices and crannies

The advantage to mankind of being able to trust one another, penetrates into every crevice and cranny of human life: the economical is perhaps the smallest part of it, yet even this iS incalculable.

John Stuart Mill – The Principles of Political Economy – 1848

Cool blog post title, eh? ;)

Designing Your Reputation System and Designing Social Interfaces

10 practical questions for designing a reputation system. This talk was (partially!) given at the 2008 IA Summit. By Bryce Glass on Slideshare

Designing Social Interfaces – workshop talk given at Web 2.0 Expo