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In my report on the Startup Speed Dating & Pitching event of nov 20th, I observed (without originality), that trust was the real currency of the sharing economy sector.

I had a discussion after the presentations with another attendee whose name I have shamefully forgotten (if you’re reading, get in touch!) about the future importance of trust metrics, and he came up with a very interesting example that makes it clear how such ratings derived from a particular service context can ripple out into a wider arena.

Consider the scenario (he said), of a boutique hotel, with relatively high prices. The hotel has, say, a 60% occupancy rate. Obviously, it would be good to improve this. But simply lowering prices will encourage budget tourists whose appearance in the lobby might detract from the supposed ‘cachet’ of the brand (yes, I know, I don’t want to stay there either, if they’re so snooty [actually, if I get rich, I might book their best suite and turn up looking like a slob, just for kicks] – but this is a business conversation, remember).

So, they’re stuck.

But here’s his insight. If that hotel chain can somehow glean from some trust metric (from, say, airbnb) the type of customer that won’t lower the tone, then they can offer them (and them only) special last-minute type deals that should increase the occupancy rate without damaging their brand (and remember, once you are over break even, extra business is mostly gravy – depending of course on fixed vs variable costs; your mileage may vary, bla bla bla).

What does this mean? Once again, it means that companies with large user bases are collecting data sets that are going to become increasingly valuable as insights like the one above are implemented across a wide number of sectors.

Who owns your eBay score? Your MyDogBuddy dog-sitter rating? Your Airbnb review? What does it say about you? Are you in control of it? Do you have a say in who uses it? No doubt there is something buried in the T&C blurb that you blithely ticked that says you have no rights at all.

Sitting there, I had a revelation (that is, of course, several years late) – that whoever manages to crack the many and various problems of aggregating or otherwise reliably delivering reports on the trust status of individuals will control a valuable resource.

Should this happen, then, of course, there will come calls from individuals pointing out that it is they who have ‘earned’ the ratings, and calling for a greater say in when and how they are disseminated. There will follow tools that purport to help you ‘manage’ (read: ‘game’) your metrics – in the same way that experian et al encourage you to do with your credit rating)[already happening]. Perhaps negative reviews will be challenged in court under defamation laws [already happening: 1,2,3,4].

However much this sounds as if it springs from the pages of a Philip K Dick story, it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that globally connected citizens, facing the infeasibility of applying any of the traditional tools of judgement  (“I’m a good judge of character, me..”), will seek others that appear to work, or at least give a feeling of confidence, however spurious.

The trick, if it is possible, will be to find a way of breaking individual metrics out of their contexts without stripping them of meaning.