1. Introduction

Online Reputation Mechanisms
A Roadmap for Future Research

Summary Report of the
First Interdisciplinary Symposium on Online Reputation Mechanisms,
April 26-27, 2003, Cambridge, MA
Draft Versión 1, May 21, 2003

Chrysanthos Dellarocas, MIT (dell@mit.edu)
Paul Resnick, U. Michigan (presnick@umich.edu)

Online reputation mechanisms are large-scale online word-of-mouth communities in which individuals share opinions on a wide range of topics, including companies, products, services, and even world events (Dellarocas, 2003). Best known so far as a technology for building trust and fostering cooperation in online trading communities, such as eBay, these mechanisms are poised to have a much wider influence on consumer behavior and public opinion formation that will impact both online and offline organizations.

The rising practical importance of online reputation systems invites rigorous research in this largely virgin territory. Do these systems truly promote socially desirable outcomes? To what extent can they be manipulated by strategic buyers and sellers? What is the best way to design them? How should buyers (and sellers) use the information provided by such mechanisms in their decision-making process? This is just a small subset of unanswered questions that invite exciting and valuable research.

In order to answer these questions, collaboration is needed between several traditionally distinct disciplines, such as economics, computer science, marketing, law, sociology and psychology. In each of those communities, researchers are actively working on aspects of reputation systems and their work has been well received within their own disciplines.

An informal community had been forming around the topic. A few researchers had met each other at disciplinary conferences and workshops. There is at least one web site (http://databases.si.umich.edu/reputations) devoted to building the community of research on reputation mechanisms. At the same time, a number of established and startup companies, such as Epinions, BizRate and OpenRatings, have been basing their business models on the accumulation and dissemination of reputation information. So far, however, most of these people had not had a chance to meet their colleagues to identify opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas.

The First Interdisciplinary Symposium on Online Reputation Mechanisms took place at MIT, on April 26-27, 2003 with the aim of bringing together the leading researchers from various disciplines that are active in the area of reputation systems, together with a few people from industry who are responsible for practical implementations of reputations systems. The objective of this symposium was to help us better understand how these various lines of work connect to one another and how, together, they can contribute to the design and implementation of better feedback mechanisms for electronic commerce and our digital society at large.

Participants Reference Discipline

Economics/IT and Economics 23
Computer Science/AI 13
Sociology/Psychology 10
Industry 8
Total 54

Participants Affiliation

Academia 40
Industrial Research 4
Industry 8
Government 2
Total 54

Doctoral Students 18

Table 1. Composition of Symposium Participants.

Funding for this symposium was provided through grants from the National Science Foundation (Award number 0209136, CISE/Digital Society & Technologies) and the Center for eBusiness @ MIT. Table 1 summarizes the composition of the symposium participants.

The rest of this report summarizes the principal findings of this symposium. Section 2 outlines why we believe that this field is going to play an increasingly important role in business and society and therefore merits rigorous interdisciplinary study. Section 3 summarizes the principal themes of the work presented in the symposium. Collectively, these represent a snapshot of the state-of-the-art in this field today. Section 4 discusses important open research questions identified during the symposium. Finally, Section 5 concludes.

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About Paul Resnick

Professor, University of Michigan School of Information Personal home page
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