Reputation Economy

There’s a saying on anarchist habitats: “No one is wealthy but everyone is well off.” This, along with the liberties granted to uplifts, AGIs, indentures, and other stigmatized populations, is why we continue to grow and prosper. As recently as even forty or fifty years ago anarchists, Extropians, and other radicals were tiny minorities, numbering perhaps a few million egos all together. We lacked the critical mass to make our ideas a reality and to build the kinds of sustainable communities that our past detractors derided as pipe dreams or worse.

It was not as though people were all that better off in the old economies, but there is a certain social inertia to stick with what you know, even if it means living in crushing poverty. Everyone else is doing it, and hey, your neighbor’s sister’s daughter knows someone who won the lottery just last year and has moved to one of the uptown enclaves, so people do get out of their miserable slums. At least that’s what we told ourselves. Plus the anarchists would come through and try to stir people up and all they ever seemed to get for their trouble was jail or shot. It’s awfully hard to go against people’s natural aversion to getting shot.

When those first few habitats went online out past the Belt, though, the ones with the convicts and crazies and dreamers, they had a chance to put in place something new, something we’d talked about but never really been able to try. Part of it—and sure, the anarchists will try to tell you all of it—was a grand social experiment to test out these ideas in a wild new frontier. But a large part of it was also practical.

Those first habs had no banks, no financial institutions, no money, and no one in the inner system was going to do business with them. What they did have were needs for basic staples at first, and then entertainment and socialization later. So they developed a crude barter economy and welded a social networking platform on top of it to keep track of who was honest and who was a cheat, of what was owed and what had been freely given.

Posted by: Professor Whuffie, Faculty at the Open Autonomous Teaching Lab <info>
Right-o, so I’ve been asked to explain the “new economy” to all you poor degenerates who have been living in the backwards-ass inner system under hypercorp crony capitalism and also for those of you who have just recently been reborn into our brave new world. So, for both groups I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is you don’t need your money anymore, and that your good deeds will be rewarded. Spiffy eh? The bad news? Well, not so bad as it turns out: you’ll no longer be able to buy your way out of any old scrape or legal entanglement. If you’re an asshole, it has definite repercussions, but since I’m willing to think the best of most people we’ll just assume that you’re not the sort of people who’d do such things in the first place.

If you’re not familiar with our way of doing things, this little primer course should help you avoid any major pitfalls and trashing your rep to the point you’re no longer extended life support privileges in a hab.

Now there are several kinds of rep, but for our purposes I’ll mostly be talking about @-rep since many, if not most, of the habs out past the Belt use it for determining privileges. A lot of what I have to say applies to other rep networks too, though.

Almost all social networks will quantify your reputation as a fluctuating numerical value. The actual scale used varies from network to network, but the same basic principles apply: when you get positive feedback, your rep score will go up; when you get negative, it will go down. So to build your rep, you want to do things that will get people throwing positive feedback at you and avoid being a dick or otherwise trashing your score. Simple, eh?

Now, right away, you need to purge the idea from your head that your rep score is just another form of currency. This isn’t digitized social credit we’re talking about here, you don’t “spend” your rep score like money. Your rep score is simply a metric by which others will judge you—particularly if they don’t know you personally. If you’re asking for a favor, looking for info on a mutual acquaintance, claiming an emergency need to jump in line, or asking for use of a collective or community’s limited shared resources, your rep score will play a factor when it comes to questions of if, when, and for how long.

Let’s get down to the practicalities. If you’re in non-Extropian autonomist space (mutualists aside, Extropians are excluded from this example since they normally still use money), most of the basic things you need can be gotten for free, no matter what your rep. Food, clothing, and even basic tools, electronics, and weapons can be acquired from publicly accessible makers, common cafeterias, community storage lockers and warehouses, and upcycling centers. As long as your rep isn’t non-existent or so low that people view you with suspicion, no one will bat an eye at you taking what you need. If it looks like you’re hoarding or up to no good, though, someone might ask some questions.

Now, if you’re in need of something that’s beyond a basic, daily need, you can probably still get it, but possibly not right away, especially if it is particularly complex, unusual, useful, large, or rare. For example, a station’s vacsuits are often scheduled for use, prereserved by people using them for work or a walk under the stars. Heavy machinery or specialized lab equipment might be in use for an ongoing project, meaning you have to wait until they’re done. This usually just means your name goes on the list and you wait your turn—and also that you are expected to pass it on to the next person in an appropriate time frame. For high-demand goods, however, an AI might be assigned to evaluate the weight of each query for use. This is where your rep can matter. If you’re a high-rep tech specialist with numerous ongoing projects, odds are you can get away with requisitioning some particular gear more often and far longer than some mid-rep hobbyist who wants to use it on stage for his punk band’s next gig. Your rep can also be useful if you want to slip past the queue in these situations. If you’re claiming a pressing need, you better have a solid rep to back it up, otherwise people likely won’t be too keen on letting you squeeze in out of turn.

Now, you may have heard it said that we’re a postscarcity economy, which is partially correct. We’re working on making it completely correct, but for now there are a few things that are in short supply: habitable space, bodies, manufacturing-intense things such as spacecraft, and exotic things like antimatter and qubits. Certain hand-made and artistic works also fall into this category.

As a collective unit, we autonomists have always supported the principle of a body for each mind. That means we aim to let everyone who wants a body to have one. Circumstances matter, however, so this may not always be an immediate thing, nor does it mean you will get the body you want. The way we swing it, everyone gets at least processing space for their ego, so if you’re happy being a disembodied infomorph, then no problem. Processing resources are trivial at this point and we can easily and cheaply make more if the need arises. But if you want a body and a place to lay it down at night, you may very well be adding your name to a waiting list. If you want a special or customized morph, that waiting period can stretch even longer.

Now now, all of this sounds much worse than it is. Right now there isn’t much of a crunch any more to get a decent morph. Hell, most autonomist habs have racks of splicers, bouncers, and synths on hand for just about anyone, along with common room space for you to crash. The difficulty comes when you want something fancier. See, your everyday ordinary anarchist doesn’t have much need for the wild and crazy specialized morphs of the inner system, especially luxury models like sylphs. Getting anything non-standard can be a challenge, particularly if the habitat is small. Specialized morphs are often allocated by a local collective for special duties, so if you’re looking for something specific you may have to use your rep to pull some favors. If you’re looking for something customized with unusual enhancements, then you’re essentially asking a favor from the modders at the local biohacking space, and so are subject to their whims, ongoing project demands, and so forth. Alternatively, you can try and connect with someone that has the morph you want and talk them into switching out for you; again, your rep will matter. This is another reason so many autonomists go for biomorphs with cyberbrain mods, though—makes for quicker and easier resleeving.

One problem the Alliance has is that a lot of folks hear that we are giving away morphs for free, which, in a way, we are. When they pay their last dime to egocast out here, however, they find they’re not well suited to the anarchist lifestyle and they can’t build up the rep to get sleeved in something they want, so they get pissed off and complain that we’re running a scam. Really, all we’re doing is making sure the people we rub elbows with every day in our little tin cans are people we know are good neighbors, people we can get along with.

When it comes to other scarce items, well, these things are usually considered the communal property of the local residents. In order to use, borrow, or take it, custom is that you need to convince the locals of your need. This may mean that you need to wait for them to poll through a collective decision, particularly if you’re an outsider. This is where your rep will really matter—if you’re running in the lower digits, odds are you will get refused. Specifics will of course matter. Plan to bring it back soon? Putting it in harm’s way? Using it for a good cause? You may get what you want, but it may come with restrictions. And if you don’t follow through on your commitment, you may have a whole habitat come hammering at your rep. You won’t always be relying on your rep for things either—the barter of specialized information, favors, and other intangibles relies heavily on how others view you. This may seem shocking, but if you’re the jerk who never helps clean up the hab, never helps your friends move, and is generally known as a lazy lout, you will find that others are less inclined to go out of their way on your behalf.

The bulk of reputation comes from tiny little microinteractions we all go through on a daily basis: talking to someone in a corridor, sharing a ride in a lift, waiting in line for lunch, or just playing a game over the mesh. All of these are chances for someone to make an impression, either favorable or unfavorable.

For the most part, the vast bulk of our daily interactions go unremarked upon. A few instances each day, however, we make an impression, positive or negative, on someone else. This then gets posted as feedback to our online public profiles. If you do something polite, kind, helpful, creative, or interesting, it may impress someone who decides to ping your profile, raising your net positive rating by a tiny amount. On the other hand, if you are rude, inconsiderate, lazy, boring, etc., that too may be noticed and your profile may get dinged, which will lower your net rating by a tiny amount. People sometimes intentionally post positive or negative feedback, but usually the process is handled by our muses, which have long been trained to reward or reprimand as appropriate.

The actual process of pinging and dinging is instantaneous via the mesh, with the resulting changes viewable by anyone in real time. You don’t actually need to know the person you are affecting, you just need access to their network profile, which most people broadcast publicly. Most networks allow you to anonymously register your up or down vote, partly to avoid retaliatory dings. In theory, this is meant to allow bystanders to reward or punish relatively minor everyday occurrences. The desired effect is to encourage good, polite, rewardable behaviors and curtail the anti-social selfishness and rudeness that is seen as maladaptive to anarchist society.

These everyday rep changes are minor—it takes literally hundreds to make a significant effect on your reputation—but over time they can add up. Obviously the point is that we behave in generally pro-social ways in order to reap the rewards of our good behavior on our reputations, and the threat of negative sanctions should keep all but the most reprobate from acting in a completely antisocial manner.

It’s worth noting that each social network has different methods of weighing positive and negative feedback, partly to avoid efforts to game the network. Some allow pings and dings in various levels of severity. The amount of gain or loss inflicted from a single person is usually limited over a certain time period. Likewise, pings and dings from people that are within your close social circles usually carry less weight than people you interact with rarely or never, to counter friendship biases. Networks like Fame rate feedback from high-rep sources more heavily than low-rep ones, in line with their classism and elitism.

Another thing to consider is that in these times, with our constant surveillance and deep but searchable archives, our past history can continue to impact our reputation even years down the line. Those that have provided great public services to the Alliance, and whose deeds have been spread widely, enjoy significant good reputation wherever they may find themselves, even years after the fact. On the flip side, our past errors can often follow us for a long time, and continue to drag on our reputation. Even publicly repudiating past bad acts can take time to filter through the mesh.

Of far more importance to your reputation are the long-form testimonials that come from others. More than a simple up or down vote, testimonials can provide significant insight into why someone chose to boost or slap your rep. These provide more details about your deeds as well as the reasoning inspiring those to reward or punish you.

Every social network handles testimonials differently. Some (such as Fame and RNA) only allow testimonials to be posted by those within your immediate social circles: your friends, co-workers, family, and neighbors. Others allow anyone to post, providing a glimpse of one’s interactions from the perspectives of complete strangers. These more disconnected views are sometimes less prominent, requiring more effort to dig up, especially if they are negative. Some testimonials can also be hidden from anyone who isn’t explicitly given privileges to view them.

The vast majority of testimonials are positive in nature, but they can also be shockingly negative, especially if you’ve done something naughty, or really screwed over one of your friends. The positive comments count for much less positive reputation gain than you’d think, though they still contribute quite a bit to your positive rep. Negative testimonials on the other hand can be quite damaging and cause rapid and permanent drops in reputation.

This may seem obvious, but disparate groups and cultures perceive things through different lenses. If you go off and publicly ridicule a hypercorp CEO, your @-rep is bound to get a boost, but your CivicNet score might well tank. If you pioneer a new chemical process certain to help in terraforming, the feedback from other scientists you get on RNA is bound to be good, while the preservationists on EcoWave are bound to take a more hostile view. Even within factions, reactions may vary. Your Extropian friends may upvote your @-rep when you sign that deal to buyout an inner system hypercorp, but the anarchists in your social circles are bound to give you a hit for your capitalist ways.

Finally, there is the friend-of-a-friend process (FOAF), which uses the close relationships you have to build an aggregate measure of reputation based upon those relationships. Basically, your reputation is affected by the company you keep. If you normally socialize with the kinds of people who wouldn’t be welcome at most anarchist habs, then your rep is going to be affected correspondingly. If you keep company with those who are good and helpful citizens, you will benefit from that association.

More accurately, what the FOAF aspect of the reputation system does is tabulate a measure of centrality for a given individual based upon the eigenvectors of the relational ties in any given relationship. This also means that your reputation is not just affected by your immediate friends, but also by the FOAF effects of their friends, and the friends of their friends.

This means that a sudden precipitous drop in reputation for a single individual can spread outwards like a ripple, negatively affecting the reputations of thousands indirectly connected to them. The opposite is also true, with sudden celebrity or notoriety having a halo effect on those with a tie to the suddenly famous ego. The downside of this, especially on other reputation networks such as CivicNet and Fame, is that a sudden drop in reputation may result in a chain reaction of de-identification with formerly close associates, dropping the now unpopular ego out of their reputation network to block the contagion of negative feedback. Unfortunately, this in turn causes a further decline in the initial ego’s reputation.

FOAF does illustrate an ongoing problem with rep systems, in that people who are socially awkward tend to be penalized. Some systems (@-list and RNA) try to account for this, but networks like Fame consider it a feature, not a bug.

A lot of inner system visitors have trouble with the idea that their rep actually matters and that money isn’t worth shit here. While most people don’t have trouble keeping a good rep—after all, it only really requires that you act like a decent person—some people find it challenging not to express their innately antisocial behavior patterns. For these people, spending time aboard an autonomist hab can be a major pain in their ass. Some of them cease to care. These drop-outs can continue to eke out a life on the outskirts of our communities, but I doubt it is a fulfilling one.

There are dangers to running with a low or negative rep score, especially on small habitats. If local morph availability happens to run low, the local community may decide that whatever skin or shell you’re walking around in should be reclaimed and redistributed to an ego that will be a more productive member of their community. Even as infomorph, a low rep score may mean that you’re confined to mesh areas where you won’t bother other egos and where you have minimal control of anything outside of your own processes.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But we’re not interested in indulging the selfish whims of petulant spoiled hypercorp execs here. This is a collective society, which means everyone pitches in, and everyone is equal and expects to be treated that way. If you want special treatment, you’re going to be waiting a long time, likely in mesh isolation, until you can get some nonautonomist hab to accept your immigration request.

It was inevitable that someone would find a way to exploit and misuse the reputation economies. A range of abuses were in fact expected and controlled for, but an ongoing back and forth continues between social network programmers and various parties interested in undermining the system—particularly when profit is involved.

The most sophisticated rep network attacks involve widespread hacking of member accounts, usually via sophisticated AI-managed botnets. These unsuspecting users are then manipulated into pinging or dinging a target’s rep, usually according to an algorithmic scheme that helps avoid detection from the social network’s fraud detection AIs. A number of criminal cartels and hacker groups (and more rarely, government/hypercorp spooks such as Stellar Intelligence) run mass infiltration schemes particular for this purpose, even marketing rep boosts towards socialites, public officials, and others that benefit greatly from maintaining high scores. These rep botnets are also rented out to boost support for specific memetic campaigns. Some cartels also pay off willing unscrupulous people to provide feedback according to their direction in exchange for microtransaction kickbacks. A few go so far as to mass create fake AI-managed “sock puppet” accounts that go to great lengths to interact with each other as real people would. Though much harder to set up, these sock puppet networks are exponentially harder for social network security to ferret out.

The practice of “griefing”—an extended form of online harassment—has become an especially pernicious danger. The same hacker and criminal networks used to boost someone’s score can also be used to drive a target’s rep down. The most expert of these campaigns bleed the target slowly and intermittently over a long time frame. Larger scale operations may also involve a full-on smear campaign using multiple media feeds in an attempt to cause a rapid crash. Intense campaigns might also involve hacking the accounts of the target’s friends and allies, then using these to offer increasingly negative testimonials, achieving the double goal of causing a reputation drop and making the target feel as though their closest friends and allies are abandoning them.

Many proponents of the reputation system would have you believe that griefing is something only made possible by the old school capitalist economies. They claim that once these economic systems wither and die, the process of griefing will disappear as well. There may be some truth to this, given the monetary incentive behind most griefing campaigns, but there will doubtless be antisocial and maladjusted elements that continue to grief even after capitalism has disappeared.

Reputation Economy

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