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New services aim to prove trust in the sharing economy

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Whilst it’s probably a stretch too far to suggest we’re living in the free agent nation immortalized by Dan Pink, it’s no doubt true that more people are trading online in a variety of ways, whether as part of the sharing economy or via platforms such as oDesk and GitHub.

A recent study found that far and away the most effective way for such people to find business was via networking.  Of course, it’s no longer (has it ever been?) the case of just who you know, but whether those people know, trust and value what you do.

Whilst the old New Yorker cartoon suggested that no one knows you’re a dog on the Internet, the modern social web demands a means of validating trust and reliability.  Indeed, Rachel Botsman famously focused her 2012 TED talk on the critical role trust plays in the new economy.

Just over a year ago, this challenge of trust and reputation was regarded as a central reason why the sharing economy would fail to take off in an essay penned by Tom Slee.

He argues that the reputation systems used by peer to peer websites do a poor job of communicating trust, and therefore the information required by people using these sites is not sufficient to make the model sustainable.

Whilst the essay focuses primarily on the sharing economy, it also has ramifications for other trust based platforms, such as the plethora of crowdfunding sites flooding the market.

To be successful, the venture-capital-funded “sharing economy” will be forced to lose all those aspects of informal sharing that makes “sharing” attractive, and to keep those aspects that erode neighbourhoods, erode employment rights, and remove basic standards. And if they succeed, they will have used the language of sharing to bring about an unregulated, free-market, neoliberal economy.

The Spanish start-up Traity believe they may be the answer to the problems and challenges outlined in Slee’s paper.

They offer an online platform that aims to create a mutual trust between two parties.  The site lets users create a profile that pulls in information from a whole range of sources.  These include the usual suspects of LinkedIn and Twitter, but also the likes of Amazon, AirBnB, Uber and oDesk.

The aim is to provide each user with a rich tapestry of career history, user reviews and various analytical wizardry to both verify your identity and prove your reputation.  This can be as simple as proving you are who you say you are, all the way to a complex and thorough portfolio of information pulled from your various online activity.

This consists both of analyzing your social networks for particular trends, such as the proportion of fake followers, and pulling in metrics directly from your social accounts that can help determine your reputation, from your LinkedIn recommendations to your seller ratings on eBay or AirBnB.

The site has already got off to a good start, attracting around 5 million users, and $4.7 million in their pockets from a recent funding round.  The aim is very much to become the de-facto standard for online reputation.

The key to achieving the success the site hopes for will no doubt be in convincing people to give the site access to their API.  That will be the key to establishing Traity as a standard for trust online.

It will also be crucial that the site succeeds in pulling in reputation markers from the offline world as well as the online one.  It is something the site is working on, but it is obviously a bit more challenging than trawling the social web.

A second site operating in a similar way is eRated.  Like Traity, they offer a platform whereby sellers can pool together the various facets of their online reputation, whether it’s on social networks, sharing economy sites, or online marketplaces.

The site appears to have slightly more vendors available to highlight, with their reputation plug-in then visible on any of the marketplaces they utilize.  They hope to attract all of the main marketplaces to the platform by making the process easy and straightforward.

We know most marketplaces fight for every hour in the day, and so we make things easy. Integration takes on average 30 minutes and after that we provide support on an ongoing basis,” co-founder Dan Benjamin told me earlier this week.

They suggest that conversion rates increase by around 20% when sellers display the eRated reputation widget on their selling accounts.

With trust and reputation being so fundamental to the success of the sharing economy, the success of sites like Traity and eRated is one that we should all be following with interest.

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