Time was, you made your reputation over many years, and only people that came in contact with you, or those close to you, would have any idea what that reputation might be. We first got indoctrinated into the reputation culture in high school where both young men and women could “get” a reputation by doing something bad. As screwed up as high school years were, it was hard to tell if it was better to have a reputation, or to be invisible. Luckily we got a sort of “do over” when we graduated because we either went on to college where we could start fresh, or we left for work where we entered a new world that did not know us yet. This gave us all a chance to rebuild our reputation, and some of us got it right the second time. Of course, there were those few who earned a soiled reputation over and over and have never been able to live it down.
Along came social technologies and the whole concept of a reputation and the speed at which it is created or altered, has been transformed. At least in high school a reputation was formed through a few people passing opinions by word of mouth. This meant that their opinions could fade into history pretty quickly. In our now technology augmented social structure, a persons opinion is posted online, searchable, and may hang around for 100 years or so on some server. Our reputation will be constructed out of thousands of bits of information that use our name in positive, negative, or neutral tones. I have mentioned in the past that ratings sites will certainly be one driver of building our reputations, and there are many other interesting ways coming. Check out http://watercooler.honestly.com This new site by Honestly.com provides and interesting way of gathering peoples opinions of each other.
Our future online reputations will be an admixture of our personal and professional interactions and we will have zero control over what people say about us. So if you think you can avoid this whole subject by opting out, think again. People will randomly mention seeing you at and event, or review a discussion they had with you. They will post pictures they have taken of you. They will upload video’s that include you. That will be the tame part. Make someone angry with you and there will be a post that describes in detail what you did and why it was uncool. How different it will be than the world now where people can pretty effectively separate their personal and professional lives.
In the end, you will either have a good, bad or invisible reputation and two of those are bad. We will have no option but to pay attention to what people say about us, or our work. We will have to run listening services on our own names so that we are at least aware of what others are saying. And don’t think that having a common name will help you hide. People will easily be able to refine their searches with a few additional search terms and get right to the correct John Smith.
The shocking aspect of online reputations may not be the fact that they will exist, but the permanence that will come along with them. I will be lucky enough that the first half of my life will go pretty much uncommented on. My kids will not be so lucky. From a young age, their names will be indexed on a number of sites – as will their conversations and comments. The Internet has a funny way of leaving content in play for a long time. I count myself as very lucky that many of my early lapses in judgment will never be commented on by the angry people that would have had every right to slam me online!
Our desire to remediate our reputations will spawn and entire industry of cleaners. People will pay lots of money to mitigate the damage of the flotsam and jetsam that will be floating around social technology land. Companies will pay even more to clean their reputations. Quietly, technology will change a critical dynamic in our lives – how people judge us… When I tell young people that I spent the first 40 years of my life not worrying about such things, it will sound like when my grandmother used to tell me she milked the cows in the morning, and rung chickens necks for dinner
Don’t get me wrong that I have any issue with online reputations. I actually think they will improve humanity in huge ways. Bad service providers will be punished – as they should be. Professionals that are abusive to patients or clients will be found out and forced to change their ways – as it should be. Companies that screw over customers will be hammered online and it will drive down their sales – as it should be. On the other hand there will be people that say very unfair things online. And we all know humans seem to take action much more when they are angry than when they are happy.
I run listening programs on my name of course, and today I found a blog post from a guy that reviewed one of my books. It was a very positive review and I was intrigued by the ideas he had pulled out to comment on. The strange thing is I have never met him, he does not know me at all, and everything he wrote is now attached to my name for as long as he leaves that blog post alive. Thank God he liked what he read…