What is reputation?

On the Web, reputation is a critical currency. But reputation is tricky. The way it's measured changes from platform to platform, network to network. And the way we evaluate the reputation of people, products, companies, information, and even the reputation systems, is affected by our own biases. Big time. Gloria Origgi literally wrote the book on reputation, titled La Reputation. A researcher at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, Origgi is a philosopher, cognitive scientist, novelist, and journalist. Over at my friend John Brockman's essential site EDGE, Origgi tackles the big question of "What is reputation?" From her interview:

Take, for example, the reputation of doctors. This is one of the most interesting examples that I like to cite. Everybody, and I don't know if it's the same in the United States, but it is surely a fact in France and in Italy that if you ask someone about his or her doctor, he will reply that this is the best doctor in town. Everybody has the best doctor, which is clearly paradoxical because we can't all have the best doctor. The way in which we select doctors is very mysterious, because you don't have explicit ratings of doctors. You have websites now that rate the doctors, but health is a very sensitive issue, and you give trust to someone for many, many different reasons. But in the end, everybody ends up being convinced they have the best doctor.

I try to understand why. What are the good things? What are the heuristics? What are the biases that make us react in this way? When you are in a weak position, you attribute a higher weight to authority, which should be the opposite. If you're in a weak position, like it's your health, you should be more careful. The routine that we use is exactly the opposite, and there are many of these biases that we use everyday in order to allocate authority to some sources of information.

The proximity bias is something that I have studied. Just because someone is next to someone else, he receives the reputation of the more important person, which leaks and illuminates and enlightens the other person. There is a halo effect of transmission of authority from one person to another. Of course you can justify in some ways why two people who are next to each other must share authority, but in many cases this can bring us to negative conclusions.

That is basically what interests me—the double question of understanding our own biases, but also understanding the potential of using this indirect information and these indirect cues of quality of reputation in order to navigate this enormous amount of knowledge.

"What is Reputation? A Conversation With Gloria Origgi" (EDGE)

Gloria Origgi