My last post addresses visual devices which are used by various online communities to gauge repute. The devices vary slightly from design to design yet their use, and the idea behind their use, is universal in the modern context of social media.
Why has this come about? I believe that we can trace this back to the ideals expressed in the 90s by Perry Barlow. In many ways these ideas where born of the new-found illusion of limitless freedom that the growing internet seemed to promise. Free expression was just that. Barlow argues that there should be no government laws online. There were no existing limits, and there should be never be any limits. These ideals as expressed by Barlow still pulse with vigor though many online communities.
Julian Dibbell's essay "A Rape In Cyberspace", which was ironically enough published in 1993 three years before Barlow's "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" details the classic example of the perils social community with which we still grapple. I won't go into great detail here; however, the key fact is that some users lost of control over their avatars. Those users were emotionally connected to their avatars just as WOW players are today.
Dibbell's essay is quick to point to as he describes a, "violation of LambdaMOO's communal spirit". It was after all a vile and disreputable act even if it was "only" done in cyberspace. Emotional fallout still occurred. This classic example highlights the meme behind our modern conception of online repute.
LambdaMOO had at one time socially policed its members, however the early programmers had tired of this and had, at the time of the incident, stopped all involvement with social aspects of the MOO. However this new act sparked the debate a-new. Near as I can tell we as netizens have yet to move past those first arguments. Sure the interent has grown and prospered but in the intervening time we have come to settle on a sort of digital feudalism. We have countless fiefdoms, with their own particulars and only so much larger authority.
We approach the crux of the matter, even now we debate those same points as those held in that discussion on LambdaMOO. Our webpages, forums, and online games all have many and varied rules of behavior depending on what corner of the internet one visits.
Part of the way we have come to cope with this libertarian reality is to develop measures of reputation. The devices on their own mean nothing; the context is everything. With the exception of the "In Situ" example all of the others are from tech companies with wide influence and fat wallets. This development is reasonably new, before the advent of the "retweet" proper, the only way one measured another's reputation was to be a part of that avatar/person's in-group, such as in LambdaMOO.
In current times the sanctity of in-groups has been breached by the expansion of online access. This breach is by design really, complete freedom of information invites all to see what was once esoteric, or rare, such that it may spread like a virus. As a way of coping with this natural clash between seniors and freshmen the internet borrowed the ideals of reputation from High School. Rather then keeping reputation tied to a linked-mind of like-thinking associates, (like say a professional association conference) the internet in its larger forums seeks volume instead, and "reputation" morphs into "popularity," that hollow descriptor we place on the status quo.