Sunday, February 18, 2007

Veritocracy - The Emerging Social Structure


Thought I'd do some coindropping and coin a new word - veritocracy - a societal system based upon trust and value that is created through information transparency. eBay, I would argue, is a veritocracy because the market of exchange that exists is based upon trust. But the trust upon which it operates is not a blind trust. I am willing to wire money to a complete stranger on the Internet because I can see this person's history as a seller. Through a thousand prior sales, I can see the seller's track record of fast, honest and courteous dealings and know that I'm not going to get gouged. Even better, eBay itself has enough trust in its own system that I'm protected from fraud even if the seller does renege on the deal.

While I might trust that eBay seller enough to wire them $1,000 for a rare collectible on PayPal based upon their reputation as a seller, that trust doesn't necessarily translate to other types of trust. I wouldn't drop my son off at the seller's house and assume he or she is a good babysitter. In fact, the seller, for all I know, could be a pedophile who kidnaps children and stows them in the basement. As long as the seller honors the eBay rules of engagement, the seller can maintain a reputation as a "model citizen."

As deplorable as child molestation may be, it may not be a bad thing that these two domains are judged separately and one can be a model eBayer while keeping private other proclivities (note an article about eBayer revenge here). Eventually, we'll see personal trust histories on childcare, friendship, dating and the like (some of this is already happening) and the Semantic Web or similar technology will make it possible to have a composite credit record of social behavior. It's a little like Big Brother, but the Big Brother isn't some government monolith lording over us - Big Brother is us.

A good thing? A bad thing? I think it will be a valuable thing overall as we'll be able to apply value to all sorts of intangibles that currently aren't acknowledged except in villages where people spend an entire lifetime in one place and the histories of behavior are inescapable. Transparency like this tends to lead to better behavior (though what is considered good behavior may be very different in our global village over the hamlet).

More to say about this. But time, time, time...