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eBay and Online Reputation Systems

Just a few weeks ago I got my blue star on Ebay.  Aside from signifying that I’ve now successfully bought or sold 50 pieces of junk – it also felt like validation in the purest kindergarten way.  Somebody likes me.  50 somebodies.  And they even said so when they rated me positively.  It also got me thinking about the power of online ratings systems.  How do millions of strangers transfer hundreds, or thousands of dollars from one to another on Ebay with no other proof of honesty aside from those little coloured stars and a list of 20 word comments from other random strangers?

A Pew study on online ratings systems noted that "26% of adult internet users in the U.S. have rated a product, service, or person using an online rating system. That amounts to more than 33 million people."  The report notes that "these systems, also referred to as ‘reputation systems,’ are interactive word-of-mouth networks that assist people in making decisions about which users to trust, or to compare their opinions with the opinions expressed by others."  Are these online reputation systems the first blogs?

Before I ever heard of influential bloggers, I knew that if I went to Amazon.com, I could read what people said about pretty much any book or product and decide if I liked it enough to buy.  In the world of consumer electronics in particular, 79.8% of men search online and read online reviews before deciding to purchase an item.  The same behaviour in other industries is growing.  I’d say it all seems to point to the power of the online rating systems as a tool to influence opinion or action among the general online population.  It could be the most often utilized tool in all its forms, from Amazon reviews to niche blogger postings.  Either way, it’s all about ego and trust.  You can trust what you read if others trust it.  And once you are trusted, you have the power.  Maybe that’s why Ebay calls the big guns the Power Sellers.

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