I’m a big fan of the idea of user-created trust and ratings networks, although most of them seem to not work very well. I recently came across two interesting examples in the virtual world of Second Life, though, which are worth pointing out here. The first is Dale Glass’s TrustNet, a fee-based subscription system with a slightly confusing Web site (here’s the basic product description). The second is known as BanLink, created by Travis Lambert of »The Shelter« and Mera Pixel. Both systems seem to have their good and bad points. I present them here merely as example of ways to address issues of trust, ratings, conflict resolution and land bans in a virtual world like Second Life, not necessarily as product endorsements. I came across BanLink in a blog post by Mera, and TrustNet through a BlogHUD post I’ve since lost the link for, apologies.
TrustNet is the ratings system; BanLink provides a ban list. Both systems work by applying the ratings or bans of your first-order associates, as well as your own. TrustNet also applies the ratings of your closest associates’ closest associates (i.e., those who are two links away from you in your network). More detailed descriptions below the fold:
TrustNet works like this:
â€¢ If I rate someone, I see them as +/-10
â€¢ If one of my closest associates (i.e., someone I’ve given a rating to) then rates Avatar X, I see Avatar X as +1. So in the illustration above, Alice sees Bob as +10 because she rated him positively, but she sees Carol as +1 because Bob rated her. Scores are added together, so that if Alice were to rate Carol, Carol would then be +11 for Alice.
â€¢ Negative ratings are not followed, so if Alice had rated Bob negatively, and Bob had rated Carol positively, Alice would see Bob as -10, but she wouldn’t have a score for Carol, since the branch would end at Bob.
â€¢ Positive branches are followed one step further, with a further 1/10th weighting. In the illlustration above, Alice sees Eve as -0.2. Alice has rated Bob as +10, so Bob’s ratings count as +/-1 for her. Bob has rated Carol and Dave as +10, so Alice sees them both as +1. Carol and Dave have both rated Eve as -10, so Alice sees her as -0.2. If they had both rated her positively, she would see her as +0.2. Bob sees her as -2 because he is one step closer to her in the tree.
This is an interesting system, but in practice these things usually depend on broad adoption for them to work.
I’m not sure how many members TrustNet has at the moment. [UPDATE: Dale tells me he has “240 users, and growing at a pretty decent rate.”] Dale has to charge a subscription fee for the service to defray his server costs, which I imagine makes it harder for people to just pick up and use. But I do like how the system provides an immediate way to assess an unknown person, at least in terms of pos/neg ratings your friends have made — which, to be sure, is an imperfect basis at best.
One nice thing about TrustNet is that the ratings are not public and not universal, they change based on your point of view. This definitely seems better to me than just looking at the cumulative mass of anonymous ratings that can go into such scores — though that system works fine for eBay, for the most part. It’s in sharp contrast to a pos/neg rating system like the one found on Xbox Live, where you know only the percentage of people who have rated you positively or negatively, not the number of people. Thus a single negative rating means you have a 100 percent negative rating score. The problem here is compounded by the fact that the Xbox Live screen reports this as 100 percent of “people you’ve played with” rather than “people who have rated you,” which is actually the case.
BanLink is a different concept, though it also creates a network of trusted links that helps users assess people they don’t already know. BanLink is basically a collection of SL communities’ ban lists. It’s not a universal ban list, however. Instead, you as a community administrator can choose which other communities to trust; the people banned from those communities are then automatically banned from yours. If one of those people then clears their name with you, you can unban them from your community, even while they are still banned in one of the communities you trust. (This last feature isn’t explicitly spelled out on the BanLink site, but that seems to be the case. If it isn’t the case, it should be.)
That’s good as far as it goes, but one interesting feature of BanLink is that the communities’ ban lists are all made public. Those who’ve been banned can dispute the judgement, and when people are unbanned they are taken off the list. I like the transparency of this. (It also makes for great reading. One person was unbanned because they “dressed during ban process,” for instance.)
Judging from the available ban lists, BanLink is being used by some 40 communities in Second Life, including clubs, hangouts and retail locations. These include Luskwood, one of the largest communities in SL. What would be interesting would be to see the network of trust links among all those communities. This would perhaps give a better indication of whether the networked aspect of the service was getting a lot of use. It would be interesting to know how many banned people are on the lists as well.
In short, I’ve no idea how well these services are working at the moment, but I do think they’re a hopeful indication of ways that Second Life residents might cobble together tools for self-governance. There are, of course, many similar things around on the Web; these are not ideas original to SL or unique to virtual worlds. I’ll be interested to see how these things grow in Second Life, whether there are similar things out there, and whether one or more can become truly useful, widespread tools.