One of my favorite topics in crowdsourcing is the debate between anonymous and non-anonymous approaches to the crowd. While I think in the end it will take all strokes, I definitely feel that the trend is moving towards non-anonymous. The primary reason is that as crowdsourcing systems become more sophisticated, personal reputation can actually be created. Now it matters more.
Witness the growing number of crowdsourced “Ask a Question” sites and their movement towards more transparency. Basically they realize that a) it matters who answers your questions and b) you are less likely to abuse the system when your real name is on the post. In the early days we had IRC, chat rooms, etc. that were totally anonymous. Then we evolved to sites like Yahoo Answers and Mahalo. Now we have sites that mix building knowledge with building reputation. Sites like StackOverflow and Quora are great examples of these. In fact, part of what makes Quora interesting and successful (compared to all the answers sites that have come before) is actually knowing who is answering the question. Take for example questions like “What does Dustin Moskowitz actually think about Facebook?” It’s pretty much as good as you’re going to get when Dustin himself answers it (and you know the answer is his). Some other examples you might not have realized are Twitter (more emphasis on real names in the new interface) and the massive exodus from MySpace (anonymous) to Facebook (non-anonymous).
All of this is happening for two reasons: humans stick to the rules better when their real identities are traceable to their actions and reputation is starting to matter. One of the most interesting things I found out about Yahoo Answers was that they allowed Top Contributors to put this “fact” on their real world business cards in the categories they answered questions in. Top Contributor in Carpentry? Great, put that on your carpentry company’s business card.
LinkedIn makes people’s resumes more public and connects all our interactions (Tweets, comments, etc..). We all are building an online reputation whether we like it or not. If you don’t believe me check out Klout, which just now integrated Facebook. Some hotels and casinos are already using Klout scores to decide who gets upgrades. How long will it be before software companies use your StackOverflow score in consideration during the interview process. And at some point, I am sure being one of the best paid search experts in Trada will help someone get a marketing job or freelance PPC job. As I’ve written about previously, Trada doesn’t allow anonymity in the crowd.
So how do we get there from here?
Part of the big issue is that it’s such a jump from anonymity and all its benefits (and abuses) to non-anonymity and all its benefits (and privacy issues). The answer, I realized yesterday is what I call “Halfnimity.” Halfnimity is simply the format “First L.” as in “Niel R.”. I first started seeing this format in the DailyMile. I thought it was interesting partially because you could click on someone’s name and then you’d see their whole name in the title bar of the browser (this may have been a bug or intentional – I could never figure out which). Then I started seeing all of this in Foursquare (e.g. Joe S. wants to be your friend). And a few things struck me.
a) This is the slippery slope (some may slippery in a good way) to being fully non-anonymous
b) It’s amazing how quickly you know who a system is talking about by just “First L.” and one other piece of data (like location, or a picture, or a place they might have been to).
c) I realized that Foursquare, in the long run, needs people to be non anonymous. Their goal is to create reciprocal value between the consumer (voyager) in the real world and the retailer (port in the social storm). That transaction for the most part has to be handled authentically (with real names) so there must be a connection between the real person and their real identity.
d) This information is as good as anonymous to me for someone I don’t know (who is “Sally K.” in Kansas? Might as well be “KansasGirl45”). This provides a sort of interesting non-linear curve in transparency. If someone does know you, it’s as good as non-anonymous. If they don’t, it’s as good as anonymous.
Any way you take a position, it’s fascinating to me to watch this specific topic in crowdsourcing evolve. I firmly believe that each crowdsourcing platform needs to consider which versions of anonymity makes the most sense to it. Crowdsourcing businesses now have three models they can employ: anonymity, non-anonymity and halfnimity. When building your own crowdsourcing business, or when contemplating the use of one, consider what’s important to you and what each model brings.
- Obsessed With Quora (blogs.forbes.com)
- How Quora Can Be Used For Reputation Management (smallbusinessmavericks.com)
- Where Silicon Valley Goes for Answers (businessweek.com)
(Cross-posted @ Trada Blog: Paid Search Marketing, Online Advertising and Small Biz)