Has Trust Really Moved to the Cloud?
Ask yourself a simple question. Are you connected to more people now than you would have been without social networking websites (Face book, MySpace, Apple Ping, and Orkut), micro-blogging websites (Twitter), professional networks (LinkedIn) and blogs on Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal and the likes etc…? Now ask yourself if the number of people you trust has gone up in the same proportion.
If there is one word that captures everything that is right, and also wrong, with the Internet it is ‘trust’. Time was people made a decision on another person’s trustworthiness based on their face to face interactions, in those days it was called a ‘meeting’, or a recommendation passed on by “word of mouth”. People knew their neighbors, met their bankers regularly and struck friendships with the folks whom they bought groceries and supplies from. One has to now know who they are connecting with, what they are watching, is the person who says they are…really who said they actually are…?
What happens when people have to give up the way they have been interacting with each other for thousands of years and switch over to a new way in the space of just one generation? What do people do when everything around them (think online gaming, social networks, blogs and micro-blogs, coupled with devices like super-phones (smart-phones, tablets and laptops) is built with the single-minded goal of making it easier to get to know more people? What about trusting those people that you now ‘know’ and are connected to? How can we scale our mechanism for earning and according trust with the same velocity as the mechanism for getting to know people? We can’t meet every person who sends us an email or a text message before deciding. And it would serve no purpose if we knew a thousand people but only trusted those we had met personally on multiple occasions. That would render our connections (once upon a time we called them acquaintances) useless. The only way to restore the balance between our acquaintances and trusted connections is to outsource how we trust. That’s right, outsource trust. Now when chips have malware prevention and spyware or adware, even shareware is managed not by the operating system soon, but the chip…then there is Moore’s Law.
In fact, we do this every day and just like making the decision on our own we trust different people to different degrees. I, for one, trust my connections on LinkedIn a lot more than the people I ‘know’ on MySpace or the PlayStation network. Our decision on whom to trust, and how much, now boils down to the arbiter, the person or organization we have outsourced this decision to. We don’t own or control the algorithms, networks and servers at LinkedIn, MySpace or eBay but they still ‘process’ trust for us. Trust, ladies and gentlemen, has moved into the cloud.
This is different from expecting people to have confidence in the website of the bank they deposit their money in. Banks have not been able to position themselves as arbiters of trust the way social networking websites have. Ironically, we trust the banks with our money, only as long as the government promises to bail them out, but place more faith in websites that allow us to swap videos, jokes and trade non-existent produce from imaginary vegetable gardens. Then there is Mobile Commerce finally coming into our lives.