News.com has an article from the CEO of Plaxo, a company that makes contact management software, and it piqued my interest. Basically, a guy who makes a very good living helping people make connections has a vary bland view of social networking systems, largely because of one gaping flaw in all of them: Trust.
For some background, all social networking systems are based around some early 1970s research that showed “weak ties”–namely acquaintances, rather than friends–are more useful in landing jobs and business opportunities than “strong ties” such as friends and family. That’s not surprising, as you have far more weak ties than strong, and because all your strong ties are likely closely knit–most of your friends are friends with each other–so that they don’t collectively open that many new doors. Thus, weak ties are where the money is at.
At least, they were in the 1970s. Now that technology has made weak ties so easy to form and trace, they’ve become even weaker. You can find out who you’re six degrees away from really quickly and easily, without doing the hard legwork of meeting everybody in the chain, so really all you have is a list of names, most of whom are strangers. There is no trust between you and someone thrice-removed. This ties into a video interview that Esther Dyson did with eBay’s reputation guru, where he talked about quantifying good behavior. Basically, eBay members have to build a track record and be vouched for by other members. That’s quantified trust, derived from qualitative interactions.
So, somehow, there is a great deal of utility and money to be made in linking social networking with quantified trust, I’m just not sure how to do it yet. It would be really great if we could nail this, if only to make our own Technical Q&A better.