Let’s look at mutual trust and reciprocity between people, both online and offline. Let’s say I want to start a library so members can have more books to read. As a member, I’d like to contribute books. How do I know that other members will contribute their books? How do I know they’ll be involved in ways that might not seem (to a casual observer) directly in their self-interest? It comes down to reputation and empathy.
Key insights: Although empathy and reputation come about from being involved, one of the key lessons is to provide multiple ways to be involved, so if one fails, others are there for backup. My library might have (with the covert goal of promoting empathy): various discussion groups, volunteer and facilitator opportunities, one-on-one mentor or hosting opportunities, committees. My library might have (with the covert goal of building reputation): a review system for individual members where other members wrote written comments or offered testimonials, and a ratings system with points to measure a key metric, such as # of books borrowed to # of books loaned. My library might also charge a required prepaid member fee or request optional donations to use the system.
Lastly, double-check that the 5 “core concerns” identified by Daniel Shapiro and Roger Fisher in their book Beyond Reason(Appreciation, Affiliation, Autonomy, Status and Role) are being met through empathy and reputation.
Reciprocity and trust is a huge issue in many organizations. In thinking over my own life and online and offline communities and businesses, I realized that reciprocity and trust are inspired by empathy and reputation. It takes a lot of empathy and either a lot of reputation or a strong reputation system to get people involved.
Empathy is “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives….[the] ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions” (definitions from www.answers.com). Empathy leads to reciprocity (”a mutual or cooperative interchange of favors or privileges”). Empathy leads to the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and, even better, the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” Before you can empathize, you need to know how they want to be treated and what they’re going through. You need to be able to put yourself in their shoes. Listening, sharing experiences (such as working in teams), and achieving mutual satisfaction or success are several ways to learn the ways others want to be treated and empathize.
Reputation is “esteem, position, character, distinction, or renown someone or something enjoys in society….a distinction earned in a society by meeting approved societal standards.” Reputation leads to trust (”firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing…to expect with assurance; assume”). It’s hard to rely on someone and be confident in them before you know anything about their integrity, ability or character. Gossip, feedback and ratings systems (as diverse as the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Reports, Siskel & Ebert, Zagat’s, 5-star ratings on Bizrate.com and other shopping portals, polls and surveys) are several ways to learn how reliable a person or group of people have been in the past.
Let’s look at this together.
www.couchsurfing.com – Tagline: “CouchSurfing is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit.”
Involvement measured by: frequency of hosting members.
Tangibles: Offer your home to host travelers for as many nights as you like; find hosts around the world to stay for free. Cost: The site is free and accepts donations. No cash is expected between hosts and travelers.
Empathy: Introductions – members write their interests and passions, post photos, explain the kind of hosting they’d like to do, and then host visitors for free, expecting an interesting encounter. No one is ever under any obligation to host. Major bonding – members spend the night together and show each other around town.
Reputation: Key metric percentage – CouchSurf emails replied to. This is important because it shows a member’s past reliability with your first level of contact. Friends and references – members write and rate their experiences with a member so you see their reputation in words and statistics. You also see how this member rated other people, and get a sense of how this member will rate your experience together.
Couchsurfing.com. Empathy: Very high. Reputation: High. Involvement of members: High.
Street Vendor Project – Tagline: “There are more than 10,000 street vendors in New York City.”
Involvement measured by: help others by volunteering and taking action.
Tangibles: (as of late 2005 when I observed several meetings) Help other street vendors get justice, reduce street vendor fines and penalties. Get legal assistance and assistance from other street vendors when you need it. Cost: There is a yearly member fee. No cash is expected between vendors.
Empathy: Introductions – members attend monthly meetings, listen to what other vendors are going through, share their own issues, and volunteer how they’d like to help or be involved, such as make 10 signs for a rally. Enthusiasm and member involvement was high until the board of directors instituted bylaws which effectively cut off communication between the board members and non-board members. Then empathy was low as board and non-board members were on opposite sides of the fence (or room), stopped listening to one another, and participation of non-board members abruptly dropped. Major bonding – members successfully protest and achieve urban justice, getting their carts back on the sidewalks, reducing police harassment, etc.
Reputation: Testimonials – members gave testimonials and speeches of thanks naming other members after successful justice was achieved. Titles – the board members and non-board members became resentful, condescending, and outright ignored each other after bylaws were adapted which effectively gave permanent titles to the board members if they so chose, creating something similar to a caste system and reducing the effect of reputation to choose and influence leaders.
Street Vendor Project (as of late 2005). Empathy: High but became lower. Reputation: Medium but became lower. Involvement of members: High but became lower.
BNI – Tagline: “The world’s largest referral organization.”
Involvement measured by: frequently providing referrals, attending meetings and other tangibles.
Tangibles: Weekly highly structured networking meetings, where members provide each other with tools, knowledge, workshops and referrals. “Dance cards” pattern the additional member get-togethers. One person per professional specialty per group.
Cost: Annual membership fee. No cash is expected between members.
Empathy: Through the tangibles above, especially the dance cards, members build shared experiences, knowledge, and successful businesses.
Reputation: Screening – rigorous screening and ethics procedures explained on their website. Requirements – for maintaining numbers of referrals to other members, attendance at meetings, and quality of work provided. Testimonials – members testify to their pleasant shared dance card experiences.
BNI (a New York City chapter). Empathy: High. Reputation: Very high. Involvement of members: Very high.
Other websites and offline organizations:
ZogSports.com – “Play for your cause.”
Involvement measured by: frequently showing up to play.
Cost: Team membership fee.
Empathy: Shared experience – of playing a sport on a team, talking and sometimes going to a bar after the game. Difficult to develop shared playing styles and a shared history of success because often only half of all members show up to any one game, which is the only method in place for empathy.
Reputation: Rating – observe a player’s skill level over time. Reliability – low reliability that many players will show up to a game, and no penalty mechanism.
ZogSports. Empathy: Medium. Reputation: Medium. Involvement of members: Medium.
Community Dish – “Designed to bring together members of the NYC Independent Theatre world with the intention of promoting communication between independent artists.”
Involvement measured by: frequently attending other members’ shows.
Cost: List yourself as a member of the Dish on all your materials. Various fees for various services, such as a low attendance fee to cover the costs of room rental and general cross-marketing initiatives.
Empathy: Shared experience – of talking and seeing shows of other members who are friends, doing similar work with similar challenges as other members. Shared communication – successful listserve which leads to shared experiences.
Reputation: Gossip – done privately, creating rifts, increasing judging of other members and reducing empathy. Repeated interactions between members. In terms of attending other members’ shows, some members tell other members “We should all see other members’ shows!” but members generally share the attitude that they already know the people whose shows they like. No penalty mechanism.
Community Dish (as of 2005). Empathy: Medium. Reputation: Low. Involvement of members: Medium-low.
Involvement measured by: frequently writing or editing on the site.
Wikipedia. Empathy: Generally low (but high within a small group of feudal moderators). Reputation: Medium (within moderators, Medium or High). Involvement of occasional contributors: Low. Involvement of feudal moderators: High.
Involvement measured by: frequently showing up for assigned work slots, attending decision-making meetings, voting.
Empathy: Shared interests, shared situations, outside friendships, outside associations.
Reputation: Secret – available to other members (and to the member herself!) only on a need-to-know basis. A member who misses a work slot and is penalized doesn’t even know it until they come to buy food and are told they’ve missed more than the accepted number of work slots. Titles – only 50 people out of the 12,000 members have photos on the wall. Gossip – dissatisfaction with limited ways to get things done results in a lot of negative gossip and resentment.
Park Slope Food Coop. Empathy: Medium to low. Reputation: Very low. Involvement of members: Low.
Involvement measured by: frequently writing on other members’ pages.
Empathy: Shared interests – listed and linked.
Reputation: Shared achievements – encouraged, listed and linked.
43things.com. Empathy: High. Reputation: Medium. Involvement: High.
Involvement measured by: frequently writing in discussion groups on other members’ issues.
Empathy: Shared interests, friendships, discussion groups, shared crisis situations (such as global warming and poverty), facilitators.
Reputation: Starred or points rating system, reviews or comments feedback system.
eBay and Omidyar. Empathy: Very high (within the people who post). Reputation: High (among the people who post). Involvement: High (among the people who post).
Involvement measured by: attendance, commitment, etc.
Empathy: Shared interests, friendships, activities, playdates, decision-making, long-term situations, facilitators.
Reputation: Testimonials, gossip, many repeated interactions.
Brooklyn Free School. Empathy: Very high. Reputation: Very high. Involvement: High.
Involvement measured by: writing product and vendor reviews.
Empathy: Shared interests – sellers want to buy a good product from a good vendor. Shared situation – sellers who write a review have already been there, and sellers who read the review are eager to put themselves in the previous buyers’ shoes to learn so they don’t get burned. No obligation to write a review.
Reputation: Ratings – such as this one show the number of customers who’ve rated the vendor, the overall rating, four key metrics (would shop here again, on time delivery, etc.), ratings changes over time. Reviews – customers write detailed reasons for their ratings. At least a few merchants who receive bad ratings and reviews trick the system by posting fake ratings and reviews. Because ratings are a scale, it’s easier for the merchant to add a few fake “5’s” to raise the score than it is for the merchant to add convincing fake wordy reviews. With at least four websites, the strongest predictor of sales (even more important than the amount of money spent on advertising!) was the ratio of negative to positive reviews.
Bizrate. Empathy: Very high among buyers (medium between buyers and sellers). Reputation: High among buyers. Involvement: High.
Going to the polls to vote in a United States town
Involvement measured by: going to the polls and voting.
Empathy: Similar interests – voters have similar interests, at least for the same candidate. Through friendships, associations, etc., voting is discussed.
Reputation: Secret ballot – a voters’ vote is private. But returning to empathy, people often say who they voted for.
Casting a vote. Empathy: High. Reputation: Low. Involvement: Medium.
Bringing food to a potluck dinner
Involvement measured by: bringing food, especially making food.
Empathy: See voting above.
Reputation: Testimonial – People are often asked what they brought, and then there’s told by other people how good the food is. A host often knows who brought what food.
Bringing food to a potluck. Empathy: High. Reputation: Medium. Involvement: Medium-high.
Stereotypical couple in a strong marriage. Empathy: Very high. Reputation: Very high. Involvement (not in immediate self-interest): Very high.
Stereotypical couple before a divorce: Empathy: Very low. Reputation: Very low. Involvement (not in immediate self-interest): Very low.
Sexual networks in high schools
Involvement measured by: Not sleeping with your close friend’s ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.
Empathy: Best friends
Reputation: Gossip – on a more objective ratings scale than most gossip, because there is the key metric, “slept or didn’t sleep with her good friends’ ex.”
See article below for details. “Researchers Map the Sexual Network of an Entire High School.” Empathy: Very high. Reputation: Very high. Involvement: High.
excerpt from article:
“…few places where students directly shared the same partners with each other….The surprising thing about the network at Jefferson High was the near absence of cycling –- situations in which people have relationships with others close to them on the network….
“The lack of cycling seems traceable to rules that adolescents have about who they will not date. The teens will not date (from a female perspective) one’s old boyfriend’s current girlfriend’s old boyfriend. This would be considered taking “seconds” in a relationship.
“’If you break up with someone, you may want to get as away from them as possible in your next relationship. You don’t want to be connected to them in some way by dating someone with a close relationship,’ Moody said.”