“In Who Can You Trust? the writer Rachel Botsman argues that we are at the start of an exciting third age in human trust. The first age was local, when we lived in small groups and everyone knew everyone else. The second, which arrived with the industrial age, was institutional, in which we were able to confidently do business with strangers thanks to a nexus of laws and contracts. The third chapter is distributed, in which trust, instead of flowing vertically via institutions, flows horizontally through a vast, algorithmically organised network. The neighbourly interactions central to pre-industrial society have been recreated, except now a neighbour is anyone with whom we share an app.“
The Reputation Game is written by two people from the PR business, David Waller and Rupert Younger. They introduce a useful distinction between two types of reputation: capability and character. The first refers to competence in a specific task, such as cooking a meal, providing mortgages, or making aircraft engines. The second refers to moral or social qualities. Someone can have a great reputation for competence, while at the same time being regarded as slippery or unpleasant. Uber is good at what it does, but you wouldn’t invite it home to meet your mother.
Capability reputations are sticky: they take a long time to wash away. An author who writes great novels early in his career can produce many mediocre ones before people start to question if he is any good (naming no names, Salman Rushdie). Character reputations are more flammable, especially in a world where social media can instantly detonate bad news. A strong reputation for competence defends you against character problems, but only for so long, as Uber is finding out. When your character reputation is destroyed, competence becomes immaterial.