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'You Who?' - Trust in Web 2.0

, 12 Apr 2007
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Issues of online trust have evolved as web 2.0 is becoming more widespread - find out what implications this has for your website.

Introduction

At the end of 2006, Time magazine decided that its person of the year was 'You'. Yes, You. All the You's that create and rate content on heavy hitting sites such as MySpace, Wikipedia and YouTube. The reason behind this is that a shift has happened where content isn't generated or rated by experts anymore. Instead it's by everyday folk like you.

This is further back up by a recent Revolution survey showed that within the 16-44 age group:

  • 48% have been to a blog site
  • 26% have created their own blog
  • 74% have rated or reviewed products, content or services

You and user generated content

User generated content is one of the key foundations of Web 2.0. (For those of you that haven't heard the hype, Web 2.0 is a term created to define the second phase of the Internet following the dot com crash.) One of the key foundations of Web 2.0 is new functionality that changes content within a page based on what a user does. But let's get back to You - after all, this article is all about You!

First of all who are You and more importantly how can I trust You? In fact the same question applies to me from your perspective. Who am I and more importantly how do you know that anything I write is worth the HTML it's coded in?

Currently there's an avalanche of new content being written on the web. The problem is that it becomes very hard to work out whether the source is accurate and whether the people looking at it know anything at all. So is there anything from web 1.0 that can help us?

Trust in Web 1.0

In the old days (read the 1990's) trust was mostly to do with ecommerce. How could you trust a website enough to either give your personal details or credit card numbers to buy something? A whole set of standards was subsequently developed to ensure users trusted your website.

Some of the key points were to:

  • Prove there's a real organisation behind your site (e.g. contact details, about us section)
  • Explain what you're going to do with sensitive information
  • Provide third party evidence of your credibility (e.g. testimonials)
  • Have a professional design
  • Regularly update the site so it looks alive and fresh
  • Avoid all errors of any kind

But are these guidelines still relevant? Do we need any other guidelines?

The problem with user generated content

In Web 2.0 the issue of trust has moved away from the people that run the site and is now starting to focus more on the people that populate it. People are engaging with each other at a one to one level in so many ways, such as:

  • Business (e.g. eBay)
  • Pleasure (e.g. MySpace, YouTube, Secondlife)
  • Information (e.g. Wikipedia, Digg)
  • Classifieds (e.g. Craigslist, Gumtree)

The issue of 'Can I trust this site?' still exists, but the new issue, 'Can I trust the people on it?' is now equally important. The main difference now is that content is being generated by anyone and then being rated by anyone. How can you be sure that what other users write is true?

For example, there's been some controversy about the reliability of articles on Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia. Even more controversy occurred when a guy solicited dates from other men pretending to be a woman on the personals section of Craigslist. He then published all their personal details on the web!

Yet another example is online restaurant guides. How can you trust someone's review when you don't know their tastes? Is the reviewer someone who goes out solely for tasty food or someone who goes out for the atmosphere/occasion?

So, how do we resolve these issues?

Trust 2.0: Ensuring trust in Web 2.0

To ensure site visitors continue to trust your site, you need to ensure users are who they say they are. Ways you can achieve this when users are registering include:

  • E-mail an activation link
  • Send a text message with an activation code
  • Send the activation code to a home or business address

You can also:

  • Only allow site visitors access to content/functionality if recommended by a registered user (LinkedIn, the online career network, does this)
  • Show people you know their IP address when they're logged in
  • Collect users' credit card details

If site visitors know you've validated the credibility of users creating content, they're far more likely to trust that content.

Other ways of increasing trust of user generated content, and enhance the credibility of users, include:

  • Make users' profiles publicly available to everyone in the community (the profile can include tastes, expertise or experience, for example)
  • Allow users to rate a person for their content, services or products (eBay does this)
  • Set up a reference system to highlight respected contributors (Amazon now gives out 'badges' to reviewers, where they get tagged with 'real name' (if the site can verify that it's their real name) or 'top 500 reviewer' (if the site feels the person has given good reviews))
  • Have real time face-to-face interaction (e.g. Skype on eBay, Winebit)

You won't of course need (or want) to implement all of these techniques - think about what your site is trying to achieve and the needs of your audience. You should then be able to come up with an appropriate trust strategy.

Conclusion

Guidelines for ensuring trust borne out of Web 1.0 still remain very valid in today's Internet. After all, web users need to be able to trust your website and the content that you've put on there. They also need to trust content generated by other users - follow some of the advice in this article to ensure this!

License

This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

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About the Author

Trenton Moss
Web Developer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Trenton Moss is crazy about usability and accessibility - so crazy that he founded Webcredible, an industry leading user experience consultancy, to help make the Internet a better place for everyone. He's very good at information architecture and interaction design.

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