Social Web Apps Design
Online Community Development

Why Does Connect.Me Need Trust Anchors?

by Drummond Reed on December 21, 2011

Building Real, Transparent Reputation Profiles

If you haven’t heard of Connect.Me yet, it’s a socially-verified reputation network. That means users of popular social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (and soon Google+) can vouch for each other’s skills, expertise, and passions. Each vouch is specific to a tag that describes the person you are vouching for. Here’s an example of my own Connect.Me card:

I can choose my own tags, or others can suggest tags for me — ultimately I decide which ones appear on my card. Anyone who knows me can vouch for one of my tags with one click — the number after each tag shows the total for that tag.

Data Transparency

In fact, once you’ve connected your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter account(s), vouching on Connect.Me is so easy that one of main questions we get is, “How do I know vouches are for real — why don’t people just vouch for everyone in the hope of receiving vouches back?”

The first answer is transparency. All vouches are public — for both the voucher and the vouchee — so it is easy to spot when someone is vouching indiscriminately. They will have a high number of outgoing vouches and a much lower number of incoming vouches. We’ve already seen this with a handful of users of the private beta.

The second answer is credibility. Whenever you want to see who is behind a vouch count, you can just click on a tag. For example, below is what you would see if you click on my “digital identity” tag:

The +numbers below each voucher show the number of vouches they have received on that same tag (in this case, “digital identity”). For example the first person, Rohan Pinto, worked in digital identity at Sun for years. The second, Eve Maler, is the main force behind the UMA (User Managed Access) protocol for user-controlled data sharing. The third and fourth are Phil Windley and Kaliya (Identitywoman), who together put on the Internet Identity Workshop.

Gaming-Resistant

The point is that if you vouch indiscriminately, your vouches will carry very little credibility. Still, overvouching — or even worse, actual dishonest vouching to try to game the system — erodes credibility and diminishes the value of a vouch.

The strongest way to protect against this is to use the single best judge of human behavior: other people. This is exactly how Wikipedia manages the world’s largest all-volunteer encyclopedia. To quote from Wikipedia’s own article on The Reliability of Wikipedia:

The Wikipedia model allows anyone to edit, and relies on a large number of well-intentioned editors to overcome issues raised by a smaller number of problematic editors. It is inherent in Wikipedia’s editing model that misleading information can be added, but over time quality is anticipated to improve in a form of group learning as editors reach consensus, so that substandard edits will very rapidly be removed.

Connect.Me is applying the Wikipedia model to building a scalable peer-to-peer reputation network. Just as the quality of Wikipedia articles kept improving as the number of editors grows, the quality of Connect.Me vouches will keep improving as the number of vouchers grows.

So who are the “Wikipedia admins” of this reputation network? They are called trust anchors. The special role they play is defined in a legal document called the Respect Trust Framework, which won the Privacy Award at the European Identity Conference last May. It defines four trust levels that all vouchers progress through:

  1. Unverified – you have registered using a social networking account and agreed to the Respect Trust Framework
  2. Verified – you have verified your social networking acount(s), given at least 10 vouches and received at least 3
  3. Trusted – you have given and received at least 25 vouches.
  4. Anchor – you have received a special trust anchor vouch from at least 3 other trust anchors

This last requirement is crucial for creating the highest level of trust. As explained in our paper, Building Lasting Trust: The Game Dynamics of the Respect Trust Framework, trust anchor vouching forms a special chain of trust that begins with a known set of people, called the Founding Trust Anchors. These are individuals whose identity is publicly verifiable and who explicit agree to help administer the principles and rules of the Respect Trust Framework.

Many of the Founding Trust Anchors are members of the Internet identity, security, and privacy communities who believe in the power of a peer-to-peer, socially-verified reputation network. Others are early users of the Connect.Me private beta (like Saul) who see the power of social vouching and want to help the trust network grow. And others are people exactly like you who are reading about this for the first time and thinking, “Hey, if Wikipedia could build one of the world’s greatest knowledge resources using a volunteer wiki, maybe that could also work for building a worldwide social vouching network.”

If so, we’d love to have you. As readers of Saul’s OsakaBentures blog, here are two insider tips:

  1. If you haven’t been vouched for by a Connect.Me user yet (which automatically qualifies you to join the private beta), here’s how you can still get an invitation: go to Connect.Me, register your username, then email it to us at requests — at — connect — dot — me and mention this blog post.
  2. If you are interested in becoming a Founding Trust Anchor and believe you are qualified (please read the description of the trust levels first), you can submit an application using this short form.
About Drummond Reed

Co-founder of Connect.Me. Internet entrepreneur in digital identity, privacy, personal data, and trust frameworks. Former Executive Director of the Information Card Foundation and the Open Identity Exchange. Founding board member of the OpenID Foundation, DataPortability.org, XDI.org, and Identity Commons.

su.pr size it! http://su.pr/2kMpHd

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  • Derek Andersen

    Congrats on the launch. Here’s my problem with this type of ‘vouching’. In an effort to make these skills manageable, they have to be somewhat broad. You’re using 1-3 word titles that people can vouch for. By nature that’s going to lead to very broad categories. This will eventually lead to people getting vouched for things like “idea guy” or “hard worker” or “dreamer”. Even the example above – “Reputation systems” is relatively specific, but “Privacy” is not. I would put most people’s skillset in the later category. That could mean anything. Maybe you know social network privacy, or maybe you know consumer privacy or government privacy rights or maybe you were a really good detective.

    The problem with these systems which exist all over the internet (Zerply, LinkedIn, etc) is that they quickly descend into datasets that aren’t valuable or specific enough. One man’s opinion.

    • Drummond Reed

      Derek, we hear you, you’re right that many datasets suffer from lack of precision on the tags. We are intent on avoiding that, but first we are building out the trust network so that people can help with the necessary semantic mapping. Wikipedia does a great job with this – no one complains that the articles there are not specific enough.

  • Janet Callaway

    Thx so much for the great review, Drummond. Though numerous people have vouched for me, I have not spent the time to learn about connect.me. Now, after reading your post over at Saul’s place, I will have to get with the program. Thanks so much. Aloha. Janet

    • Saul Fleischman

      Good one, Janet. Be sure to modify your profile. Make your most valued skills appear in your top six, and order them, because they appear (see Drummond’s mini-profile screenshot, above) in your mini profile, and later (sorry, can’t tell, haha), in goodness to come. Goodness – for bloggers, in particular…

  • Michal Hudeček

    I like

    • Saul Fleischman

      Michal, I believe the partners of Connect.Me will be impressed with IdeasWatch, but it is nothing like Connect.Me. On the other hand, the transparent elements abound, and it is one of the most innovation-supporting platforms I have even seen.

    • Drummond Reed

      Michal, I was able to locate your registration and arrange for a special “early adopter” vouch. Just log back into Connect.Me and you’ll be good to go.

      And I’ll check into IdeasWatch over the holidays.

  • Andy Nathan

    This is a great review! I just logged in and need to be vouched! Curious to find out more about this site.

    • Kimberly Castleberry

      Vouched for you Andy. Be sure you set up some “suggestion” tags for people to use or your going to get a lot of random stuff. Took me quite a while to work up some I like and I’m not sure I’m keeping all of them.

      • Andy Nathan

        Kim-Thanks!

  • Lori R Taylor

    This sounds like just what the social web needs. I especially like the fact there is complete transparency. Without transparency all of the various rating systems amount to not much more than an arms race for numbers. I plan on passing this along to all my clients and friends in social networking.

    • Drummond Reed

      Lori, we deeply agree about the value of the transparency, at all the trust levels. Thanks for the referrals.

  • Kimberly Castleberry

    Drummond, what would you say you see the eventual real life usage case of this site being particularly from it’s monetization possibilities?

    • Drummond Reed

      Kimberly, that’s a big subject – so big that we wrote a white paper about called The Personal Network: A New Trust Model and Business Model for Personal Data. In short, your personal reputation should be portable anywhere you want to use it, so you should be able to embed it anywhere you want. And a portable reputation is valuable to the businesses who want to have a customer relationship with you, and in that lies a market that does not need to compromise your personal data.

  • Christina Majaski

    This is a great article explaining how it works. I just need to look around a bit more and figure out what I would actually use it for. Thank you to Saul and Drummond for this.

  • Kristi Hines

    Thanks for the info! I received vouches for this early on, but was wary since so many other unknown networks were popping up at the same time. My main concern was that it didn’t start raiding my profile and messaging my connections like others would. The more I hear about this one, the more trustworthy it seems over the rest.

    • Drummond Reed

      Kristi, thanks. IMHO, trust has to be earned. You can’t just magically make it happen overnight. That’s why we are taking the slow-and-steady approach with Connect.Me. And that’s why trust anchors play such a vital role in the network. Each Founding Trust Anchor we personally interact with (and we do that with every single FTA) is someone who then understands the special role that trust anchors play in building trust on the network. That then spreads to the trust anchors they vouch for (when trust anchor vouching begins in January).

      And so it will grow — slowly and steadily but confidently — earning each user’s trust along the way. Hopefully just like Wikipedia ;-)

  • Sandor Benko

    Drummond, great info! I like the transparency. How exactly do you spot someone who’s vouching indiscriminately? IE where do you check the number of incoming vouches against the outgoing ones?

    • Drummond Reed

      Sandor, it’s a very good question. We did not start with any vouch limits in order to test how early users would use the network. The main reason is transparency – all vouches are public, so you can see the ratio of incoming to outgoing vouches on anyone’s Connect.Me page (for examples, click through to the pages of any of the example users at the bottom of our home page).

      Because of this, the vast majority of our Connect.Me beta users have instinctively understood the danger of overvouching and refrained from it. However as the beta has grown we have seen a few examples of indiscriminate vouching (presumably to “troll” for reciprocal vouches).

      In those cases, all we had to do was point out to those users: a) that trying to game the vouching system is not consistent with the purpose and principles of the Respect Trust Framework, and b) it will prevent them from becoming a trust anchor — the highest trust level.

      In each case the user responded that they now understood why they should not overvouch, apologized, and stopped the practice.

      This is why the role of trust anchors is so important: as the trust network grows, every trust anchor will serve as a “virtual admin”, watching for indiscriminate or dishonest vouching and helping correct it just like Wikipedia admins monitor for low quality or malicious edits on Wikipedia and correct them.

  • Saul Fleischman

    Thanks, Alan, and if the Trust Anchors application system is of interest to you, (see the link in the article Drummond wrote, above) you might think to show them your Sqrall. That’s a quite a site you have, Alan.

    • Alan Firmin

      Thank you Saul, as always appreciate your support and insights. Take care

  • Drummond Reed

    Alan, I know it can be a fine line around overvouching. The way I encourage folks to think about it is simply “integrity”. If you honestly feel someone deserves a vouch, you should give it to them, and not worry if they reciprocate. And vice versa.

    I believe than anyone who vouches with integrity will never go wrong.

    • Alan Firmin

      Very well said Drummond, wish you much success. Take care Alan.

  • Keri at Idea Girl Media

    @twitter-12480212:disqus ,

    Finally I make it here to comment…

    Much like @kikolani:disqus , I have had people vouche for me, but was wary – So many social networks, and just what do we do with all of this in a day.

    However, as @lorirtaylor:twitter mentions, if this is approached correctly, it is exactly what we need.

    I have been meaning to check it out, and I could imagine myself stepping up to be a Trust Anchor or other helpful source, if needed.

    Thank you for sharing the above information, and your candid thoughts as a leader. I look forward to learning more.

    Genuinely,

    ~Keri

    • Drummond Reed

      Keri, thanks for the feedback. We’d love to have you as a Founding Trust Anchor if you’d like to do that. Feel free to email us at anchors — at — connect — dot — me for more info.

  • Saul Fleischman

    thanks @DeeoneH:disqus – We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and I know of at least a few people who went on to become Founding Trust Anchors – after reading this post.

  • Drummond Reed

    DeeoneH, let me add my thanks for becoming a Founding Trust Anchor. This is how we build a very strong and resilient trust network — one relationship at a time.

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