Thursday, September 29, 2005

Digital Birth Control

It is an oft asked question; “how do we keep the bad guys out?” Out of our pristine identity meta-system that is.

One of the answers that concern me is that the ‘point of friction’ should be when acquiring a name. Before a community gives you a name, they should check if you are a good guy. If you prove to be a bad guy then it’s the provider of the name that must take action to fix the situation. I think this is a bad solution. I think that the same friction that will keep the bad guys out will also keep the good guys out, I think there would be privacy issues and I think that this would put an undue and unreasonable burden on the providers of names. Name providers can’t be running background checks and arbitration boards to adjudicate accusations of malfeasance.

So, how do we ‘keep them out’? We don’t. We just don’t transact with them, neither socially or financially. It’s all about reputation.

I have never stated a law before, and I’m sure someone has stated this before, but here we go, =andy’s first law:

The value of a transaction between 2 parties should never be greater than the reputational collateral exposed by either party.

I expect people that I interact with to have, and to expose, some history. That exposure only need be as great as the value of the transaction that they want to engage in with me. If they want to send me a message, show me that you have a good messaging reputation. If you want to sell me something, I don’t care if you spam or not, show me that you have delivered goods, in good condition, in the past. If you haven’t sold anything in the past, show me that you have a good messaging reputation and a good blog comment reputation and show me a third party asserted mailing address and… good enough, I’ll buy it.

So the bad guy comes along and he’s going to stand out like a sore thumb because he can’t show any history. I am obviously going transact with him with suspicion and care.

But, I hear you cry, how does a newbie gain respect in this virtual society? Well, there is special services setup for just that eventuality. Places, like Opinity, that will validate your email address with a human test, or enable you to expose your Ebay reputation to another context ( and trust that it is really your Ebay reputation). These trusted purveyors of reputation will give you, not only the ability to bootstrap your reputation, but a place to build it and manage it’s exposure.

And finally, it doesn’t all have to be good. I would accept a message from someone that has interacted with 50 people but had bad reports from 2 of them long before I would accept a message from someone that presents no history. Real people have good days and bad days, they make mistakes, they go out on a limb. Real people should have rich complex histories and reputations. The bad guys will not, they will either have no reputation or it will be flat and weird because they found a way to hack some part of the system to boost one aspect of their reputation.

It is vital that we have a rich, distributed, network of reputation that works in many different ways because, coming back to =andy’s first law, the investment in gaming ALL of the systems would be so great that it wouldn’t be worth blowing it on a any single transaction that is worth less than the initial investment anyway.

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