A couple of years back I was enamoured with the idea of reputation and the reputation economy. I even came close to joining a startup focused on reputation but am glad I didn't. I even had an idea to start my own business around the management of online reputation. Unfortunately, I don't believe that the evolution of our online behaviour is healthy when it comes to reputation. I'd actually think twice about starting a business based on reputation now because I'm quite concerned where everything online is headed.
We've all started influencing our online behaviour based upon the fact that we've realised nothing is ever forgotten online. Repeatedly we see people in the media and our industries getting slammed for something they have done online. Things creep out and can be downright damaging as standalone issues....porn, drugs and so forth or can be so misconstrued online (opinions) that they become a disaster for said person. At times, it is justified that things "come out" in our digital world but it's a slippery slope.
Certain businesses have become completely entwined with reputation. Here's a scenario that many are living daily: you meet someone online using something like Match.com or Tinder. Before you meet this person, you've probably Googled them and researched them on social media. Right there, you've already started forming an impression based upon reputation. Further, on the day of the date, you take an Uber to pick up your date and then, after leaving the car rate the driver and they you. All of this is a reputation transaction. Then you go into a restaurant which you chose based upon Yelp reviews. Hence you're eating in this restaurant based upon it's reputation. After you've eaten, to influence your reputation online, you go ahead and rate this place on Yelp. While on your date, you tweet some things out, post some fotos to Instagram or update your Facebook profile and/or check-in on Foursquare. All of these actions are driving your reputation.
Here's the nightmare scenario that I see evolving. Due to the fact that reputation is playing an ever greater role in our online behaviour I fear for it's genuineness. If I know that I am rating everything and at the same time, myself am being rated back, how do I behave? Most likely, everything will be neutered down to the extent that it's basically worthless. You already see the effect when using Facebook. Everyone is creating an optimised self via their timeline. Openly voicing an opinion can lead to shitstorms which become far worse than anything you may have said. Further, not sharing a generally held opinion segregates you from the masses, pushing you to the fringe. This has you keeping your mouth shut to stay in the eye of your "friends" and/or "followers". You start assimilating for the "likes" on Facebook or for the "retweets" on Twitter.
The less you care about reputation online, the more you become an outsider and we all know where that leads. Yet I fear for an online world where everything is neutered down and no one is being their true self. I also feel like I am seeing fairly opinionated folks online becoming quite bland for fear of tarnishing their reputation. Many things I really enjoyed because of the "mess" that open discourse leads to have become quite boring, including Facebook and Twitter. There's far less edginess to everything online and political correctness leads to the Disneyfication of everything. I miss the messy, open online world of days gone by. Or maybe I'm just getting old.