Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ TTI Vanguard Conference Notes - 5

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 06, 2010

Craig Newmark, Craigslist 
Interviewed by John Perry Barlow
Trust is the New Black

Trust issues dominate our daily lives, whether dealing with a laundry or buying food. The internet is about people, not the technology. It allows us to scale up what we always do. You already know this stuff. The internet just lets us do it bigger.

Pretty much everything you see on Craigslist is driven by community - we sometimes do inferences, like category headings, but it's driven by community. And it's largely self-policed. The good news is that the good guys are in the majority; you treat everyone as trustworthy and they normally respond. We do have some proections, but we don't talk about them. I still do customer service for people - I get emails. If I can answer it "yes, that's a fishing scam" I do. I've committed to doing permanent customer service.

(Craig can be found easily.) Yes, there are bad guys out there. But mostly it's OK. And mostly what I'm doing is some kind of public service, either Craigslist, or some other project, like Donors Choose (I'm thinking of that because I just got email relating Donors Choose and Colbert's 'Rally for Fear'). I find out that what people in government want to do is to do the right thing, do their job well. I am looking at what the impediments to that.

(You've been involved with veterans' affairs, to try to treat them well.) Yes. After Vietnam returning vets were treated pretty shabbily. So, got involved with a group (IAVA).  The idea is to actually listen top people, and then do something about it. The VA is beginning to move on a lot of things. They have this blue button initiative, where they can get their health records. I used to do technical things, but now usually people want me to talk about things. What I do, which seems to work, is that I try to find small things I can do - I work with people that have real identifiable needs. Eg. tomorrow there's a health technology conference that will have some announcements along these lines.

The hard part is to get out of the way. The hardest part of leadership is to get out of the way.

(Question about trust). In a free country and a democracy, people need to know what's going on. But in the news cycle these days, where people can make up whatever they want, the truth can get lost. So I'm speaking to newspeople, and then I guess I repeat what I her. A lot of news organizations have given up on fact-checking, objectivity, professional ethics. But there is a small number of news organizations which have decided to recommit themselves to these principles. ProPublica, for example. NPR. Huffington Post... (Barlow interrupts). I spek to them about how to set up a network of fact checking. Politifact, for example.

I am really no good with the top-down stuff. My constituency is with the rank and file. Maybe if someone gives me a feed with quality material and I'll subscribe. uch of the press these days is motivated by drama. When something goes right, it generally doesn't get reported. They'll report on scandals, exaggerate scandals, sometimes make them up. Trust in the press has gotten pretty minimal. I prefer not to complain about that, but to try to restore those old-style values.

(You were exposed to a thing that distorted reality about Craigslist recently - how do we resit those powerful distortions?). I don't know. I try to talk to people doing the job. I'll make an attempt, in my own amateurish way. The only thing we can do as individuals is talk about the good stuff, talk again about it... I have a bully pulpit right now, I have no need of it, but if I can talk about good stuff, that's what I'm doing.

(Comment on which stories you decide to print can be biased - if the context is not there then it becomes a distortion.) 've given up in general on the subject of truth, what's truth and all of that - I look at Wikipedia and they focus on what's verifiable - they used to rely on magazines, but that's not reliable any more. I sometimes do this - I can open up a ticket in Wikipedia to help people counter against distortions. I can mark a page 'pending changes' to allow for a second look. Anyone in the audience, if you have a problem like that, let me know, I know a guy. I'm working with people in Washington trying to prevent Wikipedia from being a partisan battleground.

The way to do the right thing is primarily engagement in the community. If you trust people and give people the power to do things, like flagging, if you listen and then do something about it, that creates trust, that gains trust. It's about what you already know - listen and do something about it, and then repeat that.

(Craigslist now has a culture that is very much the culture of Craig Newmark - the assumptions you have made have scaled quite well.) I'm like the Forrest Gump of the internet. Engage with people. Talk with them. Make their feedback mean something. The message again is that, next time you're on the phone with the phone company or cable company, instead of getting angry, try top treat them like people. I'm also trying to get that message to their management. (Talked to someone & said you'll never beat Craigslist, because he cares more about money than people)

(People say Craigslist is almost anti-innovation). Well it depends on how you define innovation. A lot of the new gagets don't really help people. We keep working on the back-end, to keep it fast. I love the idea of reputation systems, and I ask the CTO to pay attention to that, and to pay attention to Facebook, and Facebook authentication. It takes a lot of time and energy to fake a Facebook profile.

(Back to journalism. Is there a way to generate interest in the general public, because we have accepted the lowering of the bar?) It's because people doing the right thing, are not telling people, and telling them again, about the right things they are doing. The Daily Show, ironically, has some of the best fact-checking. You are pushing me to maybe do my own little trusted newspaper.

(You have an implicit model of trust based on history and perhaps the golden rule, but there are other models of trust, eg., assurance that people are pursuing the same goal, or some system of escrow.) In terms of the site, not really, it's about basics and the way people interact normally. The level of trust you need for, say, buying a house, is higher. Digital certificates, I speak to people in Washington, saying we have to start with basics, and do simple things. People agree with a lot more than they know about, so by getting people to work together you can get more.

My secret is to listen to people, repeat what they say, and then get out of the way. The biggest temptation of a boss is to interfere.

(You are very optimistic - what would you say to the pessimists). A lot of people are doing these good things. For the most part I'm pushing the work of others.  I just do what I do. I read history. Trust worked pretty well for Gutenberg and Luther. The big lesson they learned is that when you use social media you lose control of the message, and you lose control of the community. You have to truth the community. But they reciprocate - they respond with your own version of the message.

(Is your new title 'social fscilitator'). I think about it, but I don't do titles too much.

(Are you a social entrepreneur? Is that something unique to people who own their own companies?) In my head, maybe that's what I'm doing, in my gut, I don't care much.

(About the eBay relationship, and their buyer-seller relationships?) They're a shareholder, that's about it. I had an employee who had shares and sold them - I gave away shares to fight against any tendency to meglomania.

Fernando Flores, National Innovation Council for Competitiveness, Chile
Trust, Collaboration and Innovation in Virtual Environments

(Co-Author of Disclosing New Worlds)

I asked to speak the second day because I knew nothing about TTI Vanguard. I aksed how I can be useful at this meeting. Many of you are looking at trust. What is trust?

We live in a global, network world that needs to be plural, but is not, yet. We have global corporations, but we don't have global pluralistic corporations - we have Japanese coprporation, American corporations, etc. We don't know yet how to live i  what we call 'pluralistic networks'.

Pluralistic networks are ... networks in which people of different backgrounds, nationalities, cultures and belief systems commit to living together, respecting their differences, and collaborating to create value for others.

Emotional Fortitude is... "a skill set that includes new sensibilities and skills including the ability to cultivate a flexible identity without alienating roots, and the ability to cope with change and disturbances on an ongoing basis."

We are so obsessed with knowledge because we are so obsessed with control.

Who we are depends a lot on the relationships that we have.

Interesting observations. China, which is supposed to be communist, is one of the most capitalist countries. And if we go to graduate programs in engineering, we see the best students are from India and China. They are based in a culture of respect. In America we don't see that.

I was listening to Craig. When he began, he appeared shy, but I learned who he is - "I am a nerd, I care about customers, I am not a manager." That is a goodexample for a person who has developed emotional fortitude.

But there are people who are trapped in a different way. Let me talk about President Obama. He was a genius to produce hope, to work as an ambassador of home, to make politics trust people. But unformtunately he had no way to create trust. When you create expectations and have no trust you have problems.

Human beings sooner or later have to create promises. these aren't just an exchange of information; you are making a commitment that has an ethical consequence. I don't see anyone talking about commitment. People talk about data, information, but you can have a commitment.

Basic trust:
- pronises and commitments as linguistic universals
- trust as an assessment
- "I trust you" is an assessment, which results in a relation. Two aspects:
    - you trust the sincerity
    - you trust the competence
- you not only have promises, you also have offers. Offers and promises are what create social capital.

(Barlow - Obama seems to be the first president in my life who seems to have said what he meant - why then is he not trusted?)

John Kelly's maps - I asked, how could we make maps like that that represent trust?

Basic Trust (continued)
- trust and distrust are not always explicit. They can be transparent
- they can be in the back=ground; they can show up as a feeling, a hunch; they can exist as an attitude or a prejudice
- these empotions are deeply embodied and embedded in communities of social practice.

Relations of trust (or distrist) can be part of a social identity. Wondering - how do you break the embodiment of distrust. (longish story about playing online games)

Some interesting things:
- the nervous system does not distinguish between relativity and illusion - that's why flight simulators work - so why not have simulations where you build trust
- neural plasticity - the neural network can change itslef - you can learn and unlearn - you can learn attitudes - not only by playing games - and the purpose of the game must be to cooperate - without this in life this will not be in an identity

You are a very interesting group (Vanguard). You have created a relation of trust. This is familiarity - you don't need to think what they'll do. Yesterday, the person from MIT talked about the new way to have acquaintances.

Now, about Obama - you (America) are beginning to miss a narrative about what the nation is about. It is incredible how the goodwill from 9-11 was destroyed in a few months. But - on the other hand - the US is the only country where people can come from elsewhere, no matter what they did before, and be listed to, accepted.

Obama - New Orleans oil - made threats he could not back up. A threat is a promise - if you can't fulfill it, you lose trust.

My basic message - we are entering a difficult world in which we have to learn to live with people who are different. We may have basic emotions that are the same, but we don't have the same norms. We have to dislearn out prejudices (learn new prejudices). All along the game has been proceeding as if by accident. But we need to focus on it more clearly.

(Trust is a comutational or real thing, not just an abstract - Shannon defined information theory about measuring differences and bits, but can you measure promises and fulfillment in some computational way.) We are already doing it.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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