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Book review: The Reputation Society

by Eva Amsen

The Reputation SocietyThe internet is an interesting place. I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but a few weeks ago I was clicking around on the web and discovered that friends of mine had edited a book that was recently published: The Reputation Society. A few other people I know had written chapters, and yet somehow I hadn’t been paying enough attention and missed it.

I bought the book on Amazon, even though it had no customer reviews yet. I knew it would be good, though, because I was familiar with the work of several people involved in it. That thought process, where my decision to buy a book was based on the reputation of the authors, and where I checked to see whether it had Amazon reviews, is exactly what The Reputation Society is about.

Editors Hassan Masum and Mark Tovey gathered contributions by a group of writers and thought leaders who all approach the concept of reputation in a different way. The essays refer each other in places to make the book feel coherent despite a great variety in writing styles. Collectively, they show that there are many ways in which, to quote part of the book’s subtitle, “online opinions are reshaping the offline world.”

The first few chapters introduce the difference between reputation systems (which rate people) and recommendation systems (which rate content), and the many places they are used, both online and offline. Credit ratings are a traditional reputation measurement, but with the emergence of the internet, new ones arise, such as a person’s seller rating on eBay.

The book addresses reputation in politics, law, philantropy and many other fields. But because I manage an online community of scientists, I was particularly interested in the chapters about online communities and about reputation in science. In his chapter about online communities, Cliff Lampe points out that in recent years there has been a trend toward people using their real name online more often, thanks in part to the rise of Facebook and LinkedIn. In a later section of the book, several chapters address metrics and reputation in science, from the traditional h-index to emerging metrics based on article use rather than citation.

I never really think of the (news-y) content that scientists provide to the website I manage with the scientific output of their work, but after reading about those different reputation systems, and noting the increasing use of real names online, it seems like it shouldn’t be hard to find a person’s complete reputation profile. Not just their professional and academic credentials, but also their eBay seller score, how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers they have, and how their blog posts were rated.

Indeed, the last few chapters of The Reputation Society address precisely this amalgamation of reputations. Jamais Cascio describes four scenarios, for four possible future reputation systems, and they all involve an amalgamation of ratings from different sources. In the final chapter, Madeline Ashby and Cory Doctorow also look at potential futures for reputation systems, in particular in education systems, and those, too, include different parts of people’s lives.

If you’re interested in various aspects of the internet’s effect on reputation metrics in society, I recommend you read this book. Of course, my recommendation should be viewed in light of me knowing the editors and some authors, but if you’re reading this at all, you probably already considered my reputation – either because you know me, or because you formed an opinion based on reading my blog(s), or because Google ranked this post relatively high on a search you did. If you want to figure out how to interpret those rankings and reputations and decide whether to trust my book recommendation, a good first step would be to read “The Reputation Society”.



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