Trust, truth and networks

The raging cow incident shows that there’s a need to establish trust in the blogging (and maybe the web) world. Tim Bray demonstrates that most bloggers have relationships to products, concepts, companies, and other bloggers. His declaration of truth is a good start but there are a number of things that still need to be done. Meanwhile, Scott Johnson asks the important question: How will we establish the current level of trust we have for blogs?. It is an important question that requires much thought.

In the discussions surrounding my suggestion of how we can level the playing field, I’ve learned a couple of things:

First, whatever solution we come up with must be easy to implement. It is easy for those of us who are more technical to come up with XML rules and complex structure to represent the world. However, most people neither have interest nor experience in experimenting with such thing. Hence the first rule of any answer is that whatever solution is implemented, it needs to be simple.

Second, trust is a very large issue and some portions of it are being addressed. For example, FOAF allows you to establish trust between friends. But what about concepts (can I trust this person’s opinion on a movie review? can I trust their opinion on an Internet standard?), things (do they own the product? did they buy it or was it given to them for free? If it was given to them for free, who gave it?), people (I think that’s somewhat covered by FOAF but there’s more that needs to be built into it). This is a wide space and needs to be properly categorized for a model to work.

The next question is one of granularity. Should a trust statement apply to a whole site or to a particular entry on that site. As Scott points out “implementing this on a per post level would definitely increase the amount of work to blog content which isn’t good at all.” So what’s the option here? Is there a way to modify editing tools so they have a caveat emptor option?

Another question is how that information is displayed. Should there be a browser plug-in? an RSS reader plug-in? Should it be embedded in a feed or a page? How would the user know when the level of trust on an entry or a site is lower than expected? And, more importantly, how would one be able to check that a “trust statement” can in itself be trusted.

Lots of questions to which I do not have an answer yet but I think that they are worth pondering and I will post further on this soon. (but can you really trust that last statement? 🙂 )

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