February 19, 2008

The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Now this is a book I've got to read!

As anyone who's heard me speak recently, I'm thinking more and more about how the twin demons of attention and reputation are shaping our lives. It seems to me that we can use online attention to shape our online reputation and that this nebulous online reputation can shape the way things happen off-line.

It was Ricard Akerman's post several weeks ago on The Currencies of the Digital Realm that really crystallized these thoughts for me. As I've quoted in my last couple of presentations:

Attention is the first currency of the digital realm...
Reputation is the second currency of the digital realm...
To me this means that in the digital realm, you have to stop thinking that you're in the XYZ business...and start thinking that you're in the attention and reputation business.

And I think this is hugely important for libraries to be aware of. What we're really trying to do is build our reputations so we can get the attention of our faculty and students. Or are we using our reputations to get the attention of our patrons? Or is it a little of both? In a world where there are a million options for searching the scholarly literature, we need that edge to get our point of view heard.

So, what about The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove? From the author's web page, I can see that he has put the entire full text of the book online for free. Which is in itself a gambit to get our attention, to actually get us to read the book. Then, perhaps we'll buy it or invite him to speak at an event. Perhaps having a widely reviewed and commented upon book can help him build his academic reputation? It's all intermingled and cross-promoting.

The points he is trying to make are actually quite skeptical, worrying more about the damage to our reputations that can happen online rather than what we can do positively:
What information about you is available on the Internet?

What if it’s wrong, humiliating, or true but regrettable?

Will it ever go away?

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.

Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cyber mobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Longstanding notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance among privacy, free speech, and anonymity, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

But it still looks to be an interesting and provocative book. Perhaps we're still waiting for a book to make the counter-argument, that the Web can be used to build and foster our reputation too. I have to admit, that Chris Anderson's upcoming book Free might just be what I'm waiting for.

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