The shape of an idea was coming to Chus Carasa as his father started to recall the memory of a friend. With melancholy in his voice, Chus’ father spoke of a very humble man who had saved more than a hundred lives throughout a lifetime of volunteering, but who was now very ill and completely alone. There was no one around to help him in his most desperate of hours. This story hit Chus especially hard. He wondered how someone who had been such a contribution to his community could be void of a network of close friends or family. Couldn’t his reputation have garnered some support from someone, he wondered? It was at that moment for Chus when an idea began to take shape.
Maybe if a person’s reputation could be accessible to the public, more people would be inclined to help those that had helped them or the community. And what if that reputation could be as simple as a Google search? After all, how many people Google their names every day just to see what comes up? The idea finally took form when Chus decided there should be an app that allows everyone’s reputation to be digitally accessed. A network where reputation guides everything. He decided on the name Reput and got together a team he’d worked with on other software projects. This was going to be an app that let the community deliver its opinions of each other, the good and the bad, and just like in the non-digital world, no one could be exempt. A reputation follows you anywhere, after all.
The Reput app starts out simple enough. Once a user signs in, Reput is given access to the user’s contact list that is derived from the phone’s address book. Once in, a user can look at all of those contacts ‘reputs’ – what users are saying about that person. The app is really divided into two different areas. The first part is a ratings section where the personality of a user can be graded. The other is a forum where a user can write about that contact. Essentially, with Reput, you could go in and write something about every person in your contact list (hopefully something admirable). However, if a user wants to hide their username, no problem, anonymity can just as easily exist.
And just like in Secret, anonymity is being used as the messenger in the form of a self-created username. Whether you expose who you are to the network is up to the user and Carasa believes users will feel more comfortable sharing opinions behind an avatar, although he stresses that accountability is still the best way to make information complete. This idea of accountability amongst an anonymous-based social network might seem hard to enforce, even contradictory, but Carasa has decided that the best way to allow a free-flowing opinion-based social network is to let the community police itself. That is to say, users can vote on the reliability of what others in their community are saying.
“As I see it, truth is truth and I trust a statement more if it’s linked somehow to its [original] author. When it comes to opinions, subjectivity arises, but I still prefer to interpret those opinions by also considering who they are coming from,” Carasa said.
Of course, with any network that has anonymity options, infringing content is always likely to surface. There is also the likelihood that bullying and “trolling” will exist, although the minimum age limit of 18 years should cut down on some of it. Still, this is a concern that all of these new anonymous networks must brace for, as well as the possibility of legal issues being raised. If, for example, a user’s reputation becomes tarnished from another user who is claiming false statements, perhaps even to the point of harassment or job loss, could the latter user be sued for making libelous statements? This is where the real accountability issues are brought up, and where apps like Reput and Secret have given way to a new debate. Will we all pay a price using anonymity to know what people really think about us?
Misuse of social media is everywhere, of course, and Carasa doesn’t expect Reput to be any different. But Carasa has said that any illegal activities taking place on Reput will be reported to the authorities, that all situations involving misuse will be taken very seriously, and also that programs like Secret are being held to the same standard. So if whistleblowers are looking for a place to divulge corruption or illegal wrongdoing, they’d better find another way to share their information. This isn’t the Wikileaks of social media, and nor should it be.
What Carasa has done is created an app that takes one of the oldest mechanisms of social control and turned it into an online meeting point. Like reputations follow people in the real world, there won’t be much personal control in the way others see us.
Like the elderly sick man his father was talking about, Carasa hopes his app will be used for the good of the community. Awareness of the strengths in people’s character, sharing the little known appreciations that our peers don’t tell us to our faces, even setting up our single friends on dates with those who have had high evaluations. These are all possibilities. Carasa hopes to influence people’s behavior in the offline world, for the better, with Reput.