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"Attack of the EMAC" is Kevin Sharpe's class blog for EMAC 6300: Introduction to the Study of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas, Dallas. He is an educational marketing manager and runs the Newspaper in Education program at The Dallas Morning News.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why we need a Good "Open-source-keeping" Seal of Approval

Jaron Lanier’s addresses concerns regarding online collectivism in his essay “Digital Maoism” and the risks of sharing knowledge from open sources such as Wikipedia. Moving forward – as more and more resources are developed through open source contributions – perhaps some type of “digital reputation” needs to be developed that reflects a source’s reliability, experience and authenticity. Rather than depending on a democratic approach that might be driven by subjectivity, an objective score could be used to weigh in the credibility of a contribution based on the contributors reputation.

This basic approach similar to this concept is already used online in a simpler manner that isn’t based on complex calculations. EBay allows shoppers to share their experiences so others can determine whether or not a seller is reliable and able to make good on their products or services. Couch Surfing doesn’t use calculations to report a user’s reputation, but transparency and references from other users are documented and available for review. Spam blockers have also been using this type of “digital reputation” in order to determine whether or not an email is spam.

Credit ratings are a similar concept that might make a good model to start some type of “Good Open Sourcekeeping Seal of Approval.” However; since one source might be a master at one topic or area of expertise, that same contributor could be unreliable in many other subjects, skills or abilities. A digital credibility rating needs to factor those variances in order to calibrate some type of score that fluctuates based on topic, purpose and objective. Registration and authentication would be required. A plug-in or some other type of application would need to track and measure that user’s contributions, collaborations and feedback in order to calculate and post scores.

Rather than being “driven by democracy,” open source sites would qualify and share contributions based on this type of digital reputation. Updates and revisions as well as overrides and objections would be automated and objectively calculated rather than based on popularity, politics or subjectivity.

UPDATE: The New York Times published an editorial the day after this posting regarding ways sites are addressing "trolls" who are abusing anonymity. Two specifics mentioned that are relevant to this topic.

One application used by Disqus allows ...
"users to rate one another’s comments and feed those ratings into a global reputation system called Clout. Moderators can use a commenter’s Clout score to 'help separate top commenters from trolls.'"

The editorial also describes an approach used by Gizmodo.

The technology blog Gizmodo is trying an audition system for new commenters, under which their first few comments would be approved by a moderator or a trusted commenter to ensure quality before anybody else could see them. After a successful audition, commenters can freely post. If over time they impress other trusted commenters with their contributions, they’d be promoted to trusted commenters, too, and their comments would henceforth be featured.

While these approaches focus on just "commenting," it illustrates there are opportunities to utilize this kind of concept to develop and track some type of "digital reputation" system.


  1. If there was a "Good Open Sourcekeeping Seal of Approval" don't you see it as another control? If there was a Seal of Approval how much would it cost? Would it limit the amount of people willing to contribute if they had to complete certain criteria to get the seal? Its like the Better Business Bureau approval. Did you know that the BBB approval can be bought?

    From a business standpoint, like any credential, it would be a great way to make money.

  2. Great Post, Kevin. While Nick makes some good points I can't say that I disagree with the concept of a seal of approval. At least not on its face. Indeed it would represent a control however that isn't neccessarily a bad thing. The greatest strength of online commenting forums is also it's greatest weakness - anonynmity/lack of control. If the point of comments is to foster a free exchange of ideas then having a control in place to protect that exchage, and subvert trolls, isn't such a bad thing. As with any control, however, there exists the risk for exploitation and manipulation. Very thought provoking post!

  3. Hmm....like Nick I have to admit that I balk against adding an additional level of hierarchy. What you are really talking about is establishing trust, or learning how to evaluate a source. Can these things be accomplished without an official system?