Social software and the problem of trust

Although you don’t hear about it much, trust is an extremely important issue in the software world.  A common example is eBay – how could eBay stay in business if millions of anonymous buyers and sellers didn’t have a certain level of trust?

Andy Brice, a software developer, gives a really interesting example of the problem of trust in his blog.  He became concerned that his software products were getting a ridiculous number of awards and 5-star ratings from shareware download sites.  He devised an experiment: if you create a text file, change the file extension to .exe, and submit it to 700 download sites, how many award would you get?

It turns out you would get tons of awards.  A large percentage of these sites, which ostensibly provide users the service of evaluating shareware and freeware, are in reality just trying to skim adwords revenue.

Social software, if applied correctly with enough participation, can help to solve this problem.  It is much harder to fake 1000 bookmarks than it is to make an authoritative-looking award banner.

Many of us work on projects internal to companies where we don’t confront these issues directly on a day-to-day basis.  Large companies can generate billions of pages of documents and code each year.  Add to that the billions of external web pages we use as reference material.  Tools such as social bookmarking can help build up this network of trust and sift through the less useful resources even on intranets.

So now that we have the tools available, all we need is participation.  You’re reading this, so I’m probably already preaching to the choir.  Trust is a really interesting issue, though, so I’ll be writing about it here and there in the future.