Back in 1997 the Internet was all fun and games for me. Chatting was my #1 activity online and even thought I didn't even have my own computer at the time, I would regularly go to the same chatroom every day along with a large number of people from allover the globe.

From the beginning I wondered why some people were so secretive about themselves, not telling their real names or displaying personal photos, while others even extended our online friendship to old-fashioned letters and phone calls. I did not understand what some people were so afraid of, but back in the day it was not uncommon to hear about the 'online weirdos' who would stalk you on the street if you gave your name away and how hackers could destroy your life (and put even you in jail!) if you made an online purchase - Scare talk very much like the Y2K, and like the Millennium Bug it was not unfounded, just overvalued.

I never really thought of 'online trust' then because it seemed evident that it was a give and take relationship pretty much like everything else in life, as is trust 'offline'. Trusting online is like trusting offline, minus the power to knock on someone's door and ask them why they did not fulfill their part of an agreement. *That* is what's threatening to people.

But this is *perception*, not *real* trust. You are no less safe with your credit card online than you are when you go to a restaurant and the waiter takes your card away to pay the bill. How can you tell if he doesn't have one of those card-cloning machines in his pocket? (It happened to me in a gas station by the way)

I have a bag full of stories about 'online trust' from that very chatroom: When I finally got my own computer in my early days of college, one friend from California sent me a 56K modem - she trusted the fact that I just could not afford one back in the day. It was also in that chatroom I met my business partner, with whom I carried on one of the longest 'blind trust' relationships I've ever had: We started a business together - me in Brazil, she in Australia. It lasted four years and I never even saw a picture of her. We both trusted each other to do things and it just worked. If the Internet was a parent, this would be 'Unconditional Trust'. ;)

If you think about all the mischievous possibilities and opportunities to lie to someone over the Internet, you probably would not carry on with any relationships, people or businesses related. And neither would you offline.

-- Quoting Peter: --
"And while today's web surfers are a bit naïve, you can bet tomorrow's
web natives will be more careful about where they place their trust."

I will have to disagree with that. I don't think they are naïve, or that they were naïve before. I do think that slowly people are seeing that they have options. There was a time when I could only buy books online from Amazon (I live in Brazil). It was my only choice - I trusted them once, a 'test trust', and they delivered. And so I continued to buy from them and they have always delivered. They gained my trust on the first attempt but I can honestly say that if they don't fulfill their part of the bargain in the future, I am very likely go somewhere because now I have many, MANY options.

This is what the 'brand loyalty' researches miss. They think that because you keep buying you are loyal to the business, when in fact their returning customer's credibility in the business is hanging by a thread; it only takes one false step. Everyone deserves a second chance you may say, but frankly, businesses don't. People will not give businesses a second chance, specially online with a world of options.


Thanks for sharing your trust experiences. I agree with you, except where you disagree with me :-) I do think lots of people have been (and continue to be) naive about the credibility of online information. People tend to put new technologies on a pedestal for a while and trust anything that comes through that medium...before they develop critical evaluation skills (sometimes by learning the hard way).

Rich Wiggins from Michigan State University tells a good story about Whale Watching in Lake Michigan. Several years ago some people posted this web site as a joke:

And were surprised to find how many people believed the premise. Some reporters even wrote about the presence of whales in Lake Michigan.

That said, I agree that as customers we don't want to put too much trust in businesses...and more options (the ability to comparison shop) or more information (customer reviews) reduces our need to trust what companies tell us.

Glad to read of another skeptic's conversion to the utility of wikis. For an in-depth article about wiki as a collaborative content technology, with loads of links, check out my article in the April 2003 issue Searcher magazine, "QuickiWiki, Swiki, TWiki, ZWiki and the Plone Wars."

Of course wiki by itself doesn't engender trust, but behind an intranet, there's no finer, *less expensive* solution to virtual whiteboarding. The technology's robust (it's nearly a decade old) and proven. On a public site, depending on its purpose and the wiki application itself, a wiki can be safely used and may encourage online trust through relationship building, but, like any other Internet/Web technology, can't guarantee trust.

It just dawned on me. Why don't I like Wikis? I've complained about Wikis before, but now I realize it's about trust. But it's trust in another sense.
The reason I hesitate to write in a wiki is that I don not really trust my grasp of the english language. I do not want to impose my bad english on all. In short - I'm a wiki lurker.
I'm active on lists like SIGIA-L, I keep an active blog in english (sort of english), and I comment on sites like this.
Somehow wiki's are different because I see them as websites - and I do not want to ruin the general impression of a website.

At least that is part of the explanation.

I've been active on computer networks since 1989 or something. Compuserve, The Well, BBS'es and so on - calling international to the US from Denmark to reach The Well at 50c a minute. So I guess I've allways valued this kind of networking, and I've never used a handle.

Gunnar, your grasp of the English language is excellent. Stop being overly modest :-)

It is interesting that the slightly higher barrier of the wiki silences you, whereas you're very comfortable posting in online discussions (which often get archived as part of web sites).

Seems that you're comfortable with conversation but not with publication, and I'm guessing you are not alone.

Of course, the value of wikis derives from their subtle differences to other communication formats.

By design, the average wiki contribution should be of *slightly* more enduring value than those made on discussion lists.

Sometimes, less is more, though in the case of lists and wikis, we'd probably benefit from a little more from the lurkers.

"Seems that you're comfortable with conversation but not with publication, and I'm guessing you are not alone."

You hit the nail.


Thing is that you seem to get a lot of feedback by posting into "conversations" like this one or like a list - but not when "editing sites" - like wikis.
If you feel like you're talking into a pillow when using a "second" language, you probably need a little more feed back to feel comfortable.

It's probably very simple as seen from a psychological angle.


Trust is certainly the big issue today. As Robert C. Solomon writes in *Building Trust* "without trust there's no communication, no commerce, no collaboration, no conversation." Solomon is a UT philosophy professor who co-wrote the book with Fernando Flores. He says trust is like love in the sense you usually only notice it by it's absence. Trust is hard enough to build and maintain offline and the web world requires even more effort to make up for the reduced interpersonal bandwidth.

I'm new to the Wacky World of Wiki but it seems like a great tool for project management, team dialogue and collaboration. (Any case studies or examples of that?) I like the simplicity and a slight barrier to entry that preserves rational discourse (+ or -)! Adina Levin at introduced me to it. Your list of resources is very rich, thanks!

Even if we completely exclude all intentionally untruthful communicators, offline anonymous communication approaches would be much more widespread. Bob Karsten's felicitous comment about "the slight barrier to entry that preserves rational discourse" brings up an intriguing question. What if, offline, those barriers were sharply reduced?

Anonymity allows, whether online or offline, the person communicating to make his point without the nuisances or opacities of others' preconceptions (based on the writer-speaker's personal history, unless he's a well-known figure). His (or, of course, her) words will be viewed through the preconceptions of the reader-listener, but they will not be additionally weighted by the sometimes grating assumptions people make of *me* when they think they know *my* personal or professional history, *my* philosophy, and *my* investments in certain ways of thinking.

Jean Paul Sartre once said that "hell is other people". Then again, a wiser man, Thomas Merton, contrarily (and more recently) wrote: "The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we see in them."

Perhaps the internet--including email, blogs, and wikis--at least gives the speaker-writer (not merely the "writer"--somehow that's an inadequate term in such a dynamic and collaborative communication medium as the net) a chance to make his case without the hearer-reader engaging his preconceptions about him. Maybe it helps the listener-reader the (at least abstract) beginnnings of "love", if love is not twisting the other to fit our own image. We have, in a sense, taken a weapon (personal preconception) out of his hands.

the listener-reader's filter of assumptions about life, politics, philosophy, economics, art, etc., will surely meet and sift the words he reads, but he will not be additionally burdened by an cocksure image of the one who send him the message and thus extended a hand.

The speaker-writer, in turn, is afforded the freedom from offline judgment--from the predisposition to treat him as a fixed, known entity, and thus as someone whose opinions only need be partially listened to/read. After all, if my brother speaks, can I truly say I hear him with clean ears?

Flaming is appropriately named. It's more akin to the monk setting himself afire than extending a hand. The flamer is immolating himself in his petulance, anger, or fear that the communication is reduced to a curse.

Veni, vidi, wiki!