Rankings Drive Reputation

Online reputation is going to increase in importance and utility for users, and the company or companies who capture it better will have a real advantage moving forward in the social networking revolution. The first successful incarnation of this is embodied in LinkedIn, which structures and verifies a user’s background, education, work experiences, and recommendations in an easy digestible and standardized format. While many folks can fit neatly within the LinkedIn structure, there are many, perhaps even more folks who cannot, yet they may provide significant value to a potential co-founder, employer, or customer, even more so than a traditional LinkedIn profile could communicate. (I know this first hand, as I’m often dismissed because of my paltry LinkedIn profile only to make connections on other networks.)

One entrepreneur who has written on this subject extensively is serial entrepreneur and current Battery Ventures EIR Jon Bischke, who has written about the opportunity, who’s building it, and most recently, on how Quora’s forthcoming “PeopleRank” algorithm will converge (or not) with the reputation “graph.” I would encourage you to follow Jon and his blog if you’re interested in this particular topic, which is going to evolve very fast.

On the subject of Quora’s forthcoming PeopleRank — I haven’t had much time to think about it, and it will require some more thinking, but my gut reaction is that it’s a very tough problem and risky in the sense that people both do and don’t like to be ranked. There’s something very primal in the reaction to it, and there’s a politically correct aspect of it, too. I’ll have to write more later, and maybe this entry will kickstart that process, but I came across an interesting Malcolm Gladwell article in the February 14, 2011 issue of the New Yorker (which I’ve downloaded and posted below, so you can read it.). The article is meant to shed light on the garbage that is college rankings made famous by U.S. News and World Report. I wouldn’t recommend the entire article, but there was one part that I found super-interesting and I’ve quoted it below, as it relates to the possibilities of rankings and reputations, particularly within smaller groups:

Gladwell says: “...reputational ratings are simply inferences from broad, readily observable features of an institution’s identity, such as its history, its prominence in the media, or the elegance of its architecture. They are prejudices. And where do these kinds of reputational prejudices from from? According to Michael Bastedo, an educational sociologist at the University of Michigan who has published widely on the U.S. News methodology, “rankings drive reputation.” [Bastedo shows that] (t)he U.S. News ratings are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bastedo, incidentally, says that reputation ratings can sometimes work very well. It makes sense, for example, to ask professors within a field to rate others in their field: they read one another’s work, attend the same conferences, and hire one another’s graduate students, so they have real knowledge on which to base an opinion. Reputation scores can work for one-dimensional rankings, created by people with specialized knowledge.

Download this file