As I think about the potential jobs that our students will be looking for, I’m trying to read widely, and lately I’ve been reading a lot of business-school texts. I know, I know – jack of all trades, master of none, but I’m trying to better understand the exact jobs that people will have when I’m trying to plan the major.
So, after trying to engage in gestalt psychology and all kinds of emotional literacies, reputation is my latest investigation. Companies are now hiring reputation management specialists (the link is to an article in Forbes, although I could have linked a dozen places) to understand, monitor, and bolster/develop their online reputations, and this sort of job might be a good one for English majors (or for those in our new major, Professional Writing or whatever we call it). It features lots of textual analysis, lots of observation, and an ability to understand how the various pieces of online reputation systems work together.
The book I’m looking at is this one: The Reputation Society: How Online Opinions are Reshaping the Offline World. It must be good because it has a wordcloud on it that prominently features both ‘reputation’ and ‘society’.
- As is so often the case, scifi was here first – Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is mentioned here, and Madeline Ashby, who I have not read, has a clip of a story as well…
- The essayists are not unaware of the difficulties of building any sort of reputation system (they are planning on collecting lots of consulting fees based on their expertise), but I was more interested in how much they understood the larger problems – capital will not be replaced, for instance, and these folks know this. One writer (John Henry Clippinger) even invoked quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who will watch the watchmen?).
- At least one author (John Whitfield) saw possibilities for reputation analysis helping non-profits (and those who want to donate to them.
- Another author (Lior Jacob Strahilevitz) saw reputation systems as ways to counter “statistical discrimination” (68)
- One noted how reputation systems will have “a socializing function, whether intended or not”, and noted how Facebook and LinkedIn saw a reduction in the use of pseudonyms between 2005 and 2010 as users realized the importance of positive social media exposure (85).
- Several noted the difficulties inherent in quantifying trust, none more coherently than Paolo Massa. He argued for contextual reputation as a way to better understand the ways in which trust works online (153).
- At least one set argued for better ways for users to control their “personal information flows” in order to avoid the dilemma that Neil Postman articulated clearly (and beautifully) in Technopoly: “we are surrounded by the wondrous effects of machines and and are encouraged to ignore the ideas embedded in them. Which means we become blind to the ideological meaning of our technologies” (Michael Zimmer and Anthony Hoffman 182, Postman citation on p. 94 of the 1992 edition).
- One set sees a way out of a hypersplit online discourse (of politics in particular, with issues such as climate change cited) through “rating in large-scale argumentation systems,” arguing that such systems will enable participants in discussions to see the biases that they bring (Luca Iandoli, Josh Introne, and Mark Klein, 170)
- Finally, Alex Steffen argued that attention philanthropy could help bring attention to causes that are having trouble raising capital (91).
All-in-all, this book made me think quite a bit about the ways in which reputation can be quantified, and they redeemed the sort of frighteningly optimistic tone by having Doctorow and Ashby finish.