The philosophy of reputation systems

Digital Reputation and Social Networking Systems are currently very hot but have you ever wondered about their philosophical roots. They are actually embodiments of the two mechanisms by which we humans can know about someone or something according to the Philosopher Bertrand Russell: Acquaintance and Description.

Thanks to Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capıtal, for pointıng out that accordıng to Russell, in his paper, Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description, you can only know someone or something either by acquaintance (i.e. first hand experience) or by description (i.e. the guarantee of another party).

Trust by acquaintance means that you know the individual on a first-hand basis.

Obviously we are very limited in the number of people we can know this way and in our modern world this provides no basis for the kind of commerce and transactions we all need to engage in.

Trust by description means that somebody else vouches for the person.

The guarantee of this is generally a document (such as a passport or credit card) and this is the basis for the vast majority of commercial transactions individuals and enterprises engage in.

However, Trust by description, could also be a communication between the party with the first-hand knowledge and ourselves in response to our question "can I trust this person".

This communication also could be indirect and come through a chain of intermediate relationships (with appropriate credentials) thus the interest in social networking systems.

So now you know!

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