What was it that Yoda said? "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering" This week Dave asked us to discuss the relationships between cooperation, incentives, reputations, and trust. I think it would be fair to say that reputations lead to trust, trust leads to cooperation, and you must have incentives to make it all work.
I used to teach a class at Weber State University called The Wired Society. One of the topics was human nature and technology. I posed the question, if technology helps us to do what humans do 'better', then it might be important to determine if humans are inherently good or inherently evil. If technology is a magnification of human nature and by nature we are 'bad', then isn't technology a bad thing as well?
I ran a series of 'experiments' where the students had to make choices in an online environment. The results of these challenges were supposed to give us an insight into human nature. A key theme to this experiment was the question of anonymity (which could be argued is the antithesis to reputation), and trust. The results were interesting. One of them was the prisoner's dilemma. I found that when we did the exercise in class, people played quite nicely. Online was a completely different story. Here and here are a few of the the links that demonstrate what happened. The long and the short of it was that when the class got online, in a state of anonymity, with no worry about reputation or future retaliation, things got messy. Quite messy.
Compare this to real life where what I do is noted by those around me, and I build a 'reputation'. "Oh yeah, that's Marion. Isn't he the one that painted the local Wal-Mart a nice shade of salmon while wearing a Tick costume?" What I do becomes my 'reputation'. Online we have the option to be anonymous, but if we frequent the same spots, with the same people, we again begin to build a reputation. I argue reputation is a good thing. It keeps us from acting 'human'.
Because my class acted in a anonymous environment, for a short period of time, in a temporary environment, there was no reputations built. The end result was that there was no trust. Because there was no trust, there was ultimately no cooperation. Another of the challenges I gave my class was an exercise in cooperation. If the whole class cooperated, they all came out ahead. If, however, one person decided to go against the group, everybody lost a few points, but the person who defected got a lot of points. It was a non-zero-sum game. Since nobody was concerned about reputation can you guess the results? More than half the class defected, even though during the discussion portion of the challenge almost everybody promised to cooperate.
A good case study is e-bay, talked about in two of our readings. It's a great system, partly because it is so incredibly simple (lower cost for those following the rational choice theory threads), but the end result is that the system gives us a reputation, easily and readily accessible by all, thus forcing trust (or distrust, as the case may be). With a quick click, I can know how other people have acted in past transactions. If somebody tends to be dishonest, then I can avoid working with them. If the trust is built, then I may now enter into a cooperative act with them. I will give them money in exchange for an item.
That trust also plays back into what Kollock called a social dilemma. E-bay's system allows us to engage in a 'tit-for-tat' system of feedback. Tit-for-tat means that if somebody harms you, then you harm them back. If the other player cooperates, then you in turn cooperate. If somebody sends you a solar powered clothes dryer, and you are not happy with it, then you can retaliate. This won't keep them from trying to sell to others, but it may warn others that this person is dishonest, and ultimately they may lose business. Going back to the rational choice theory, it becomes to costly to act in a dishonest manner. It is to a sellers advantage to be fair because there is a cost (negative incentive) to cheating.
I haven't left out incentives on purpose, rather I feel that I've already shared my thoughts on how they play a very important and holistic role in online communities and human nature in general, and I certainly wouldn't want to bore anybody with further ramblings. :)
I just want to say in hindsight that I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this topic. I think there is a lot there, and my thoughts are quite convoluted and nomadic in nature. I only had a week to work, read, and think on this. I feel like there is more that I haven't considered or discussed.
Ok, on to Zork! I beat Zork 'back in the day' (by day I mean before you could hop on the internet and get a walkthrough), but who can pass up the opportunity to play video games when you've got such a great excuse? "Honey, look right here, it says I have to play this game for hours and hours this week. Yeah, my professor is a slave driver, but you gotta do what the good doctor says."