Disclaimer: I work in Google's Policy Team, developing multistakeholder cooperations for internet governance & policy themes, hence I want to point out that all the opinions and ruminations on this blog are mine, not Google's.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Kleos - human qualities, transparency and trust

[The following is an idea that i am going pregant with for some years now - today i signed up for IBM's innovation & collabroation platform ThinkPlace and to test it out i posted an outline of the following idea:]

The idea is to introduce a reputation system inside an organisation.
You all know ebay's reputation system. Well i think it would be very interestig to develop a similar system where you rate your colleagues' way of collaboration.

I guess it would be usefull to provide several categories, like diplomacy, or swiftness.

What are the objectives?
I believe this continuous way of assessing community participants is less prone to 'election cycles'. (People are always nice before the elections/assessment.)

The objective is to develop a culture of trust and transparency. I believe it is a barrier for mobbing and unfriendlyness when there is a constant reputation system.

How is it implemented?

The idea con easily be implemented in an intranet/website scenario. All you need are some web-forms and a database. A wiki with one page to portray yourself and one page with a "reputation page writen for you".

(The difficult aspect is to make it credible by having it emerge/evolve naturally and with credible champion. If the boss just has his secretary write his profile it wont fly.)

What are the benefits?
Trust and a more human work place. The kleos system allows to consider and value empathy and humaneness rather than monetary quantifiable measures when looking at a colleague/employee.

Here is a longer introduction to the idea:

Barcelona: 3.10.2006

Kleos: Your virtual reputation

In the following paragraphs I present an idea that has occurred to me more than a year ago but that, given the intimidating complexity of the practical implementation, has so far left me paralyzed as to present and develop it in written form.

Rather paradoxically, it is an idea that can be proposed in a rather simple statement: Over many centuries (valuable) physical objects have been exchanged for other physical objects or (physical) services. Money as a proxy has emerged as a powerful facilitator of trade. Today almost everything can be (monetarily) priced. However there are many aspects of our life-world (respect, credibility, etc.) that defy quantification. The proposition (of this first sketch) is to interpret and use the virtual space created by the internet as a qualitative representation of the individual’s honorability and qualities. For the holistic and open phenomenon of online identity created and maintained for this purpose I suggest the greek term kleos.

Kleos was a key personal attribute in Greek society (and thus a quite prominent theme in Homer’s Odyssey). It describes the fame or reputation a warrior has build up in battle[1]. It is what the people say and believe about somebody in contrast to Time (read temea) which is the personal code of honor one is practicing for oneself. As such someone’s kleos indicates what society thinks, values or condemns about a person; which might be expanded to be a proxy for that person’s personal traits like credibility, persistence, drive, etc., all important indicators when engaging in collaborative or other inter-personal relations.

The ‘external’ and inter-subjective representation of the kleos becomes especially relevant in the context of non-presential (informational) relationships as they are more and more common in the ephemeral project based work teams of the network society.

Allow me to elaborate on the practicalities of the kleos concept. Probably the closest implementation of what I mean by kleos are the ‘user ratings/profiles’ offered e.g. by ebay. The ability to estimate the trustworthiness of a contract partner by evaluating his/her transaction history and the experiences of others allows for a sufficient understanding of that persons code of conduct to assess the risk involved in dealing with the other. However the kleos concept is not limited to these foremost and directly economic aspects. For example the assessment of someone’s foreign language capacities, his/her social attitudes, or analytic or decision making skills can be a powerful indicator increasing with the amount and quality of recommendations.

Furthermore kleos fosters the development and transparency of communities (or social networks) as proposed in my thoughts about a re-framing of nepotism (see Revisting Nepotism). Because people indicate and describe their relation to each other in a transparent, descriptive and performative fashion, social (emotional/intimate) bonds are valued but reasonably constrained.

Last but not least let me raise some of the challenges regarding kleos. The most obvious point is fraud. However considering that even though it might be rather easy to obtain a rather voluminous account of positive recommendations, it is the critical voices that will be recognized and perceived most problematic. Surely one can always revolve and start with a clean slate, but it will cost him/her considerable effort to re-build a solid (manifold supported) kleos. Thus even though one might be able to build up a (fraudulent) positive kleos rather quickly, it will be de-valued as quickly. (There are many other possible free-riding scenarios, however I believe efficient prevention methods can be devised. E.g. the case of swindler gangs who conspire to testify false kleos can be prevented by setting the system up to give more weight assessments from established long-term users)

I can very well understand that the proposed system and the degree to which the individual’s life becomes public information might intimidate some of you[2]. But after all it is your behavior and being that shapes your (online) identity[3]. You are who you are and it seems to me more attractive to be able to see what my friends and colleagues think about me.

In conclusion, kleos will represent your reputation and the relationships you have allowing the world to see who you are. In my understanding this is the virtual equivalent to the physical presence and features you have. One might use makeup or wear a fancy suit but if you want it or not your facial expressions, posture etc. will always show your ‘personality’. As for ‘fashion styles’ there are personality styles (just look at myspace and you know what I mean). I believe that kleos on a personal level fosters consistency and a positive value set and on a interpersonal level it fosters transparency which fosters honest discourse and justice

I am looking forward to comments and hopefully constructive critique.

Side-note on the difference between personal websites an kleos

On the internet more and more people are constructing identities, and one could hence argue that they are sharing their personal qualities etc. In psychology this kind of personality presentation is called impression management and even though it has value because it shows you what a person wants you to see and think about him/her, but this “self-branding” and self-expression does not have the credibility than external descriptions which is supposed to be written from a neutral point of view[4].


I began to explore whether similar approaches have been developed and proposed. Please send me any references you might know. I found the following interesting papers:

Six degrees of reputation: The use and abuse of online review and recommendation systems by Shay David and Trevor Pinch
First Monday, volume 11, number 3 (March 2006),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_3/david/index.html

Manifesto for the Reputation Society by Hassan Masum and Yi–Cheng Zhang
First Monday, volume 9, number 7 (July 2004),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_7/masum/index.html

The following is a selection of texts that are related (most of them are from the articles above):

Albert–László Barabási, 2002. Linked: The new science of networks. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus.

Gary E. Bolton, Elena Katok, and Axel Ockenfels, 2003. "How effective are electronic reputation mechanisms? An experimental investigation," University of Cologne Working Paper Series in Economics, number 3 (September), at http://ideas.repec.org/p/kls/series/0003.html, accessed 2 July 2004.

Eric Bonabeau, Marco Dorigo, and Guy Theraulaz, 1999. Swarm intelligence: From natural to artificial systems. New York: Oxford University Press.

David Brin, 1999. The transparent society: Will technology force us to choose between privacy and freedom? Reading, Mass.: Perseus.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1991. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperPerennial.

Chrysanthos Dellarocas and Paul Resnick, 2003. "Online reputation mechanisms: A roadmap for future research," Report from the MIT/NSF Interdisciplinary Symposium on Reputation Mechanisms, 26–27 April 2003; at http://ccs.mit.edu/dell/symposium.html, accessed on 1 March 2004.

Thomas Homer–Dixon, 2002. The ingenuity gap: Facing the economic, environmental, and other challenges of an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. New York: Vintage.

Robert Kaye, 2004. "Next–generation file sharing with social networks," accessed at http://www.openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2004/03/05/file_share.html, on 1 May 2004.

Gregory MacLeod, 1997. From Mondragon to America: Experiments in community economic development. Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada: University College of Cape Breton Press.

Paolo Massa and Bobby Bhattacharjee, 2004. "Using trust in recommender systems: An experimental analysis," iTrust2004 International Conference, at http://moloko.itc.it/paoloblog/papers/itrust2004/trust2004.html, accessed 2 July 2004.

Howard Rheingold, 2003. Smart mobs: The next social revolution. New York: Basic Books; book discussion site at http://www.smartmobs.com, accessed 1 March 2004.

W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, and T. Pinch (editors), 1987. The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[1] Unfortunately true Kleos can only be earned after death, but we will neglect this point as it does not dovetail with the proposition made here.

[2] I can only argue that it’s benefits are great and you will adapt to it the same way you adapted to mobile phones.

[3] In Germany we have a long discussion about the ‘glass citizen’ (the increasing amount of information stored and registered about individuals) in my point of view it is much less a question that data about you is stored but who and what kind of data is stored for what purpose.

[4] Obviously also people contributing to your kleos have a subjective experience about you but at least the impressions are external and with raising quantity their inter-subjectivity raises.

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