Distributed Trust Network Proposal

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This document serves as a proposal for a new Digital Trust Network. Standard work-in-progress disclaimers apply.


Trust 1.0

The existing ecosystem of digital trust networks is dominated by what we will refer to as Trust 1.0 systems. These systems involve a single, publicly-accessible profile for each agent that reacts to karmic input by other agents. The Couchsurfing network is an example of such a system. Each user's profile contains a comment wall containing positive and negative feedback from others. The nature of this feedback varies, and the only quantifiable metric is a drop-down menu stating whether interactions with this person have been positive, negative, or neutral.

Shortcomings of Trust 1.0

The Couchsurfing reference system has experienced wide adoption. Unfortunately, there are several fundamental problems with the Trust 1.0 approach that limit its usefulness.

  • Shyness - People are extremely disinclined to give negative feedback, because the feedback is directly visible to the person in question. No matter how it's phrased, a negative reference invariable comes off as a low blow and sours whatever was left of the relationship. Leaving negative feedback is also risky, because other parties tend to retaliate with (often fabricated) negative feedback of their own.
  • Objectivity - Trust 1.0 systems assume that there is a single and objective portrait of a person to be portrayed. Even my enemies tend to have friends who will write positive things about them. Cases of this range from intentional deception (a ring of burglars vouching for each others' trustworthiness) to differences of opinion (you and I disagree on whether Sarah's partying is positive or negative).

Trust 2.0

Trust 2.0 does away with the notion of objectivity and attempts to mimic human social memory. Suppose I move to a new town and want to know who I can trust. I can't go to the town hall and read a profile of each resident to inform my decision. So instead, I befriend a few people and use them as a resource to evaluate others. Can I safely lend my car to Nick? Do I want to go on a road trip with Rachel? These are questions I would pose to my confidants. I then use these data points to form my own opinion, taking my feelings on the source into account. For example, I might trust Steven with my life, but I might also feel that he's more easygoing than I, and take his recommendation to travel with Rachel with a grain of salt.

The key idea here is that my connections in the social graph shape the information that I receive. To obtain useful data, there must be people whose opinions I value who are also willing to share these opinions with me.

Phase One - Core

The core of the system is a simple social networking site. Each user has a simple profile (no need for a lot of information). The two core workflows are adding connections and querying information.

Adding Connections

Alice can add a basic connection to Bob without Bob's knowledge or consent. When detailing the connection, she has 3 type of input:

  • She can rate Bob on a sliding scale of various basic, built-in qualities, such as:
    • Trustworthiness (Can I trust Bob not to go back on his word?)
    • Reliability (How often does Bob flake on his commitments?)
    • Initiative (Is Bob the kind of guy who makes things happen?)
    • Altruism (How does Bob weigh his own needs with the needs of others?)
    • Social-Graces (Could I bring Bob to a range of social situations without him making any gaffes?)
    • Extrovert (Is Bob outgoing?)
    • ...etc etc...
  • She can indicate how strongly she feels about any of the above. For example, she might not know him well enough to know his level of Altruism, but she could tell at last night's party that he's definitely an extrovert.
  • She can assign custom tags identifying skills, qualities, etc.