Reputation has become a critical part of the Internet. We use forms of reputation to rank websites, suggest services in marketplaces, and promote social media profiles. Many people, such as merchants on Amazon.com and influencers on Instagram, rely entirely on their digital reputation for income. Until now we’ve had two paradigms of online reputation, one for Web 1.0 and another for Web 2.0, and a third paradigm is on the horizon for Web 3.0.
This post discusses the idea of using Blockchain technology to build a decentralized reputation system for Web 3.0, and the implications of that paradigm.
Web 1.0 – Digital Reputation by Links (1996 to 2005)
The history of online reputation starts in 1996, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin (both around 24 years old at the time), developed a new kind of search engine at Stanford University. Sergey wanted to order the results by “link popularity” (how popular that result was on the Internet.) They measured the popularity of a link by the number of other links that linked to it. They called this metric PageRank (a play on Larry Page’s name) and in 1998, based on this idea, they founded Google Inc. As of 2017, PageRank is still a core part of Google’s algorithm to rank search results on the internet.
Web 2.0 – Digital Reputation by Likes (2005 to 2018)
A common element of many of these websites was their social nature and a crowd-sourced metric of popularity. Digg and Reddit both gave users the ability to “upvote” links, and Facebook introduced their like button for user-generated content in 2009. Today, online reputation is mostly based on likes, upvotes, stars, and followers.
The Philosophy of Reputation Ownership
The problem with these reputation paradigms is that your reputation is nontransferable across platforms. A user can download all of his content from Facebook.com (e.g. photos and posts), but not the likes that he has acquired. Likewise with Instagram, Twitter, and any other social media platform.
The truth about who you are on the Internet (your digital identity), and how others perceive you (your online reputation), is fragmented and privately owned. The power of your reputation is constrained by the platform you choose. These problems can be solved with a paradigm that decentralizes reputation.
Web 3.0 – Decentralized (Blockchain) Reputation
The technical concepts behind Blockchain were first discussed in 1991 and 1992 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. Their papers proposed a way to collect and time-stamp digital documents, such that the timestamps on the documents could never be changed. In 2008, an unknown individual known as Satoshi Nakamoto distributed a blockchain on a peer-to-peer network, as the basis of a new digital currency called Bitcoin. Distributed blockchains (such a Bitcoin’s) decentralize the information they store by replicating it across each node in the network. Since verification is at the core of Blockchain technology, blockchains are especially good for recording important transactions, such as financial ones. This gives us a highly secure, distributed, and verified ledger for our important transactions.
The rise of Bitcoin has spawned a multitude of new blockchains and tokens (including Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, Monero, and Ripple.) Each of these has a constituency of investors who hold varying amounts of the token. But tokens don’t have to represent currency – they can represent any kind of information we want, including reputation. A reputation system built with Blockchain technology would allow us to record the actions that affect our reputation across a cryptographically secure, peer-to-peer network. We would then be able to share that information with any platform, so that digital reputation wouldn’t be tied to a single private entity.
Since, in this paradigm, reputation within a social group is based on possession of a token, and there is no limit to the diversity of tokens that can exist, there could a token for every conceivable social group. It would be up to the group itself to distribute its tokens according to its values – each group could do this differently.