Joho the BlogMay 2011 - Joho the Blog

May 31, 2011

[berkman] Miriam Meckel on communicating trustworthiness

Miriam Meckel is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk on “Communicating Trustworthiness: Drivers of Online Trust.” She will present research she has been doing at U. of St. Gallen along with government and some businesses. She’s investigating how trustworthiness is communicated, and what the initial drivers and cues are. She’s going to look at the changing conditions, some basic ideas on initial trust formation, then her study, and then the cues identified in initial trust formation.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Users’ willingness to provide data about themselves depends on some sort of trust. There’s been much discussion about this, including the importance of preserving privacy. For example, Facebook restricted info about users to the user’s schoolmates, but over time it has become far more permissive. (See here for article and diagram.) Both Facebook and Google have said things indicating they believe our attitude towards privacy has changed. E.g., Eric Schmidt: “If you have something you don;’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.”

What is trust? Miriam provides three definitions, each of which involves vulnerability. When we trust someone online, we understand we are making ourselves vulnerable in various ways. Trust enables us to manage the complexity of our social world, reduces the cost of negotiations, facilitates the adoption of new technologies, and reduces perceived risks. Initial trust is especially important since you can lose a customer forever by screwing it up.

In her study, they interviewed 23 online businesses active in Germany. They also did in-depth interviews with 43 users representing a range of socio-demographic sections. From this they derived a model of nine trust drivers: Reciprocity and exchange, proactive communications, user control, brand, third party endorsements, design of user interface, offline presence, technology, and customer service. Then they did a quantitative survey of German users to find out how the different factors are applied to diff business models. 11,000 users from across socio-demographic segments were invited to participate in an online survey for a little money, with a response rate of 12%.

She goes through the nine components of trust:

Reciprocity explains about 35% of the variance of the data. The mutual relationship of customer and organization is crucial. Users are willing to hand over personal info, if they know what they gain from it, if it is transparent, and if both sides benefit.

Brand and reputation: A well-known, establish brand helps build trust. If it has a large customer base, it is perceived as more reputable. You also need a professional feel for the web site.

User control: Users want to know who will have access to their data. Ask permission.

Proactive communications. [missed it. sorry]

Customer service: Multiple ways to reach a person. Provision of different payment methods.

Offline presence: The existence of physical stores helps build trust. Show a photo on your web of your brick and mortar store.

Technological reliability. This can be an issue when your service involves third parties.

Third party endorsements: Not only are seals of approval helpful, but so is having a high search ranking for third parties.

The next step is how these factors are differentiated by B2C business models. Only four factors turn out to be relevant across the board: reciprocity, third party endorsements, user control, and technological reliability. Miriam looks at online shopping, online banking, etc., to see which factors are relevant [but I can’t keep up with my typing. sorry] It seems that for building trust-based relationships with potential clients, you have to have fair communication, mutual benefits signaled, privacy and security policies being displayed, clear T&C’s, engage in issues mgt to follow what is being said about you on the Web, explain the business model and data needs, explain the flow of info to third parties and what the policies are, communicate third party endorsements, engage, peer groups and communities, bring in your offline reputation, and consistently apply corporate design with good design.

Some implications: 1. Users are more willing to trust large, well-established and popular online services. High search-engine ranking can be considered a trust measure.

2. The visual appearance counts.

3. Reciprocity is very relevant in all online transactions.

4. Offline presence, technical reliability and customer service have barely been researched yet.

5. Organizations need a strategic approach for communicating trust to their stakeholders. Take an integrated communication approach, including issues and risk management. They should communicate proactively, in a conversational tone, and transparently.

What not to do? Don’t be Facebook asking Burson Marsteller to find bloggers who would attack Google.

Q: [me] Customer ratings? And the presence of customized trust mechanisms as at eBay and Amazon?
A: Third party endorsements include customer ratings. But we surveyed a represented group of German users, not ones as sophisticated as others, plus there may be cultural differences.

Q: Is your work ethical? An evil company can read your work and figure out how to appear to be ethical. Also, Germany has stronger regulatory protection, which change the signals
A: Yes, companies could fake being trustworthy.

Q: How about SSL?
A: The awareness of the need for SSL is frighteningly low.
Q: Anyone care about authentication certs?
A: [general laughter]

Q: Would the same trust drivers be applicable in news sites and other such non-sales sites?
A: Just in parts. [I can’t read her table because I’m too far back :( ]

When you look at the erosion of privacy caused just be clicking on opt-ins, you get to a point where you just accept whatever the terms are and however they’re changed.
A: People don’t read privacy policies when they’re changed.
Q: Maybe it’s that when the privacy policy looks impressive, it’s a signal of the quality of the service. But, the key question is whether people who say privacy policies are a trust driver actually read them.
Q: There’s some survey support that most people mean think that a privacy policy is there to protect your privacy. [general laughter]

Q: [me] To me, third party endorsement means you get celebrities or associations or other companies to endorse you. But the real trust-driver for me frequently is peer endorsement. Maybe it would be worthwhile to separate those two, especially since businesses need to do different things to gather other companies’ endorsements and to gain a good reputation among peers.
A: Yes, that would be interesting.

Q: What supersedes trust?
A: There may be the desire to be “in” as opposed to “out.”
Q: There are network effects are. How many of friends have to join before I throw away my privacy cBerkman

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May 30, 2011

The titles of philosophy

Philosophers Carnival at Philosophy, etc. points to philosophical posts from around the Web over the past three months. Many of them weigh in on age old questions about the continuity of consciousness, whether objective morality is possible without Heaven and Hell, and whether time travel is possible.

But I was especially struck by the online sites and journals where the articles were posted:

This is a far cry from titles such as the Review of Metaphysics and Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies typical of the printed output of the old school. (Browse a list here.) The new titles seem to mock the academy, even though many of the papers would be at home in its traditional publications. But slowly the wrapped will take on the properties of the wrapper…

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May 28, 2011

Weekly Berkman Buzz

This week’s Berkman Buzz:

  • Ethan Zuckerman [twitter:ethanz] explores the lessons to be learned from an Azeri journalist’s release from jail:

  • Harry Lewis compares $100,000 to a college education:

  • The Citizen Media Law Project [twitter:citmedialaw] explains a British court order against Twitter:

  • Howard Rheingold [twitter:hrheingold] covers the impact of digital media on youth civic engagement for DMLcentral:

  • Chris Soghoian [twitter:csoghoian] reviews the DOJ’s reinterpretation of the Patriot Act:

  • Weekly Global Voices [twitter:globalvoices] : “Russia: Attack Survivor Journalist Oleg Kashin on Internet Freedom”:

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May 27, 2011

A Declaration of Metadata Openness

Discovery, the metadata ecology for UK education and research, invites stakeholders to join us in adopting a set of principles to enhance the impact of our knowledge resources for the furtherance of scholarship and innovation…

What follows are a set of principles that are hard to disagree with.

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What foxes eat, with a twist ending

Having seen a fox crossing Comm Ave in Boston yesterday…

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…I googled to find out what they eat. I went to a helpful article in Time magazine, and discovered that foxes are 44% rabbit.

But the last sentence in the article gave me a WTF moment.

After I realized what was going on, it seemed to me that the article provokes several topics for discussion: The Demeaning Power of Condescension. The Ease with which an Entire Culture can be Trivialized. And, Please, People, Make Your Metadata More Obvious!

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May 26, 2011

UN gets a telephone country code for disaster relief

According to a post by Alec Saunders, the United Nations has been given its own country code — you know, the thing that confuses Americans get wrong when we have to call another country. “Tomorrow, Voxbone will announce an agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to implement country code +888 on behalf of UN agencies engaged in rendering assistance to nations or regions affected by natural disasters.” Here’s Alec’s explanation, based on a conversation with Voxbone CEO Rodrigue Ullens:

In cases of humanitarian need, where telephone systems may be inoperable because of natural disaster, the first teams on the ground would deploy a local GSM antenna, connected via satellite to the rest of the world. Then Voxbone would simply forward calls to the +888 country code via satellite to the local GSM station on the ground. The impact is that UN inter-agency, intra-agency, and external users will be able to dial a +888 number assigned to a relief agency from anywhere in the world, and be immediately connected to that relief agency in the field, in whatever country being served. Not only that, the numbers need never change. Relief staff will be reachable on the same numbers in whatever location they are currently assigned.


May 24, 2011

The Net Neutrality Bot

Juan Carlos de Martin is giving an informal talk to a few of us about the Neubot: a Net Neutrality bot, created by NEXA Center for Internet & Society
at Politecnico di Torino.

Neubot is a small piece of software that tests connection speeds, “assesses the quality and neutrality of Internet connections,” and makes the data publicly accessible. The agent runs in the background. It tests by sending and receiving random data. Each test emulates the syntax and behavior of an existing protocol, e.g. HTTP, RTP, or BitTorrent. During the test the agent measures quality of service indicators, such as jitter. The result of a test is a measure of the connection quality to a specific host, with time, day of month, and emulated protocol indicated. Each result also enables a coarse identification of the location, so the results can be organized by city. Before you install, you have to agree that your IP will be in a public database. [All that appears is that an IP address sent some random bits using a particular protocol, so I’m not seeing the privacy implications, but apparently Europe disagrees.] This enables the discerning of patterns that might (might!) indicate ISP discrimination against particular protocols, or hidden bandwidth caps, etc.

[And then I had another meeting and had to leave…]


May 22, 2011

Remember what it was like to be dumb?

No, kids, you probably don’t.

I used to be a terrible, horrible, miserable hobbyist programmer. I enjoyed it a great deal, but land-o-lakes was I dumb!

I learned out of books, most of which are still bending the shelves they sit on. A good programming book is a pleasure. It teaches you the principles and the basic moves. But, programming is fun because it’s so specific. You need to measure the length of a line displayed in a particular font, or you want to set the opacity of a circle based on its diameter, and the book you’re using just does not happen to hit those examples. The time I used to spent guessing and poking around was not instructive and did not build character. It was simply what you had to do when you were dumb.

I am still a terrible, horrible, miserable hobbyist programmer. But my ability to solve problems, and, yes, eventually even to learn, has gone up orders and orders of magnitude because of three inter-related things:

1. All problems only arise the first time in a population once. Therefore, most problems have already been addressed by someone before you. They’ve either been solved by someone else or, if there are no solutions, someone has already discovered that.

2. It’s now so easy to make your work public

3. The hacker ethos has resulted in superb developers making their work available as examples and as entire libraries.

The second and third together has resulted in an enormous and public repository of questions, answers, examples, and explanations. (For example, see Rebecca Murphey’s introduction to JQuery…and then consider the centuries of engineering time libraries like JQuery have saved us. (Hat tip to ReadWriteWeb for the link to Rebecca’s book.))

4. Search engines are so damn good that we can find our way through that gigantic, unplanned repository.

You know every single thing I’ve just said. Still, it’s just good to remember now and then how amazing it is that we all know this as if it were always so. Especially if for you it has always been so.


May 20, 2011

Digital Public Library of America announces “beta sprint”

The Digital Public Library of America has announced a “beta sprint” for envisioning in software (or a sketch of software) what the DPLA could be.

Woohoo! (and +1 to John Palfrey for the Baidu reference :)


May 19, 2011

Rebooting library privacy

The upcoming HyperPublic conference has posted a provocation I wrote a while ago but didn’t get around to posting, on rebooting library privacy now that we’re in the age of social networks. (Ok, so the truth is that I didn’t post it because I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.) Here’s the opening couple of subsections:

Why library privacy matters

Without library privacy, individuals might not engage in free and open inquiry for fear that their interactions with the library will be used against them.

Library privacy thus establishes libraries as a sanctuary for thought, a safe place in which any idea can be explored.

This in turn establishes the institution that sponsors the library — the town, the school, the government — as a believer in the value of free inquiry.

This in turn establishes the notion of free, open, fearless inquiry as a social good deserving of support and protection.

Thus, the value of library privacy scales seamlessly from the individual to the culture.

Privacy among the virtues

Library privacy therefore matters, but it has never been the only or even the highest value supported by libraries.

The privacy libraries have defended most strictly has been privacy from the government. Privacy from one’s neighbors has been protected rather loosely by norms, and by policies inhibiting the systematic gathering of data. For example, libraries do not give each user a private reading booth with a door and a lock; they thus tolerate less privacy than provided by a typical clothing store changing room or the library’s own restrooms. Likewise, few libraries enforce rules that require users to stand so far apart on check-out lines that they cannot see the books being carried by others. Further, few libraries cover all books with unlabeled gray buckram to keep them from being identifiable in the hands of users.

Privacy from neighbors has been less vigorously enforced than privacy from government agents because neighborly violations of privacy are perceived to be less consequential, and because there are positive values to having shared social spaces for reading.

While privacy has been a very high value for libraries, it has never been an absolute value, and is shaded based on norms, convenience, and circumstance.



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