If you are employed today, you most likely had to fill out a resume, send in a cover letter and hand in a portfolio or maybe a combination of all three.
Employers want to gauge the quality of their staff and see whether hiring someone will ultimately be a valuable decision financially. This is certainly not new: people, when making transactions among each other, always want to benefit from the decision. Whether it’s as an employee, looking to be well-rewarded for a good job, or as an employer, looking to get good work done at a reasonable cost.
On a large corporate scale, this is perhaps less noticeable through all the salaries, benefits and bonuses, but when we look at the new business platforms forming online today, connecting people on a small scale over websites like Kijiji, Craigslist, Taskrabbit, Zopa, or Skillshare, experts like Rachel Botsman are noticing a return to “old market principles and collaborative behaviors” that have been ingrained in human trade since the birth of writing.
The implications of these changes are manifold, and perhaps stand as a rebuttal to those who say the information era has disconnected us from humanity’s old social mores and customs. But one of the more interesting areas of these new business platforms that Rachel Botsman touches on in a recent TED talk, are the rating and review systems in place.
Consider reviewing a product on Amazon: in a review, one is recommending to other users whether or not the product is a worthwhile purchase. Most products on Amazon cannot be returned if they are in poor condition, so users must rely on customer reviews. Regardless of the quality of the review, there is still an element of trust involved: if someone chooses to purchase an item over another based on positive reviews, they are assuming the reviewers were telling the truth about the quality of the item.
This element of trust is even more important on new business platforms that, rather than connecting people with products, are connecting people with people – almost always, strangers with strangers. A person inviting someone into their home to walk their dog or do their laundry is trusting that person – who may be a total stranger at this point – based on referrals and recommendation.
While this can be done with resumes, CVs, cover letters and the like. The internet has given us the possibility of gathering this information online, creating a more dynamic portfolio to demonstrate the qualities and competencies of people looking for work – a “reputation trail” as Botsman calls it.
These online profiles, whether of the Superrabbit lawn care specialist on Taskrabbit or of the web designer on Skillshare, are ideal in the modern “knowledge economy.” The knowledge economy, as defined by Powell and Snullman in their paper, “The Knowledge Economy,” is “production and services based on knowledge-intensive activities that contribute to an accelerated pace of technological and scientific advance as well as equally rapid obsolescence.”
As David Skyrme describes it, this new economy is characterized by an abundance of resources – knowledge and information – which are shared amongst people rapidly. Knowledge is not limited by national barriers, but rather spread over a global network.
Nevertheless, as more recent or important knowledge has an inherently greater value than the older, less important knowledge, the competencies of workers are a crucial part in maintaining productivity and efficiency. A worker who can bring forward new ideas or knowledge with practical applications is much more valuable to a firm than a worker who offers nothing new.
This does not seem at first to overlap much with the idea of a reputation trail, but one should examine how websites like Taskrabbit or Skillshare operate. Essentially, they are allowing people to weed out ideal candidates for minor jobs based on reviews and the reputation trail.
But taking these reviews further and developing a portfolio from them – as Botsman demonstrates – can allow someone to create a new form of resume, displaying someone’s overall reputation and some of their good qualities based on dozens of recommendations.
This is how the concept of a new resume in a knowledge economy can be created by means of reputation currency. Thanks to the multitude of online examples at our disposal, we can see how new ways to rate and analyze a person’s competencies can benefit the modern knowledge economy. Examining the advantages a reputation currency system provides and the implications it has for the knowledge economy, one can attempt to describe what a future portfolio might look like based on this information, allowing new levels of efficiency – as well as trust – to be reached between people on a professional level.
What are the advantages of reputation currency?
There are four primary advantages to reputation currency today: it allows easy gauging of a person’s skill; it holds people accountable for their behaviour; it helps people to specialize in areas where they excel; and fosters trust between strangers.
Sites like Taskrabbit in the US or Ayoudo in Canada, which are based on reputation currency, have rating systems in place to gauge the work of a person in the various tasks they complete. On Ayoudo, service providers receive a Trust Score, which goes up based on the recommendations they receive from others based on their work.
Taskrabbit’s “level” system, which goes up to 25, climbs with the number of good jobs the Taskrabbit has done. Both of these systems allow a poster to easily see how trusted a person is and the quality of their work, a great advantage of even a simple out-of-5 rating system, as they also indicate a certain level of experience and time commitment to the program.
These rating systems also mean that, though the people connecting are often strangers, they are accountable for their behaviour and actions. The rating systems and reviews mean that a bad Taskrabbit will only gain infamy – a bad “reputation trail” – from a poorly-done task or one done without care or respect. An under performing “task-doer” will receive fewer tasks than others, have a lower rating overall, and may have trouble finding new tasks. As such, good work is more rewarding for both parties, encouraging quality work regardless of experience level.
While these sites built on reputation currency are often designed for basic contracting – although Taskrabbit for Business is now a hiring platform for temp workers – others like Skillshare can help people to find new work opportunities in areas where they excel, either by exploiting skills they may have neglected or learning new skills that give them valuable advantages in their careers.
Through these services, some are able to find long-term through networking with people looking for employees with desirable skills and knowledge.
Examples from Skillshare include Eric Corpus’ final project from a humour writing class that was featured on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Brian Park’s successful Kickstarter campaign after enrolling in Michael Karnjanaprakorn’s “Launch Your Startup Idea for Less than $1,000” Online Skillshare class.
This again reflects the advantages of a reputation currency system in the knowledge economy, as strong workers with valuable expertise are trained and found through the use of these reputation currency systems before bringing new concepts and insights to the workforce.
All of these advantages, united through these websites, help immensely in fostering a spirit of trust between people that has dissipated somewhat in the information age thanks to the anonymity of the Internet. By connecting real people together again, these sites help engage communities and encourage people to support and meet other people.
One story Botsman shared in her TED talk was of a man in London who used Airbnb, a website for connecting people with homeowners around the world willing to rent out a spare room and provide breakfast to travelling guests. After having hosted guests for some time, the host, during the London riots, was contacted by several former guests to ensure his safety during the riots. The communal spirit fostered by these systems is simply one more advantage to them – encouraging even more people to explore reputation currency based platforms online and utilize their skills and services.
What are the implications of such a system on the knowledge economy?
The implications of a reputation currency-based system for the knowledge economy are in many ways proofs of the advantages of reputation currency. The knowledge economy is a system that works towards efficiency and a high degree of competency, as well as existing in a fast-developing and -advancing technological domain. Reputation currency values efficiency and productivity and helps increase the flow of ideas, something which is often seen in the knowledge economy, where “knowledge and information ‘leak’ to where demand is highest and the barriers are lowest.”
Using a reputation currency system, the process of hiring service and temp workers becomes a lot easier for corporations. The Taskrabbit “service networking” system in their business section cuts out the old middleman of the employment agency, temp agency or online job board by quickly connecting employers with employees. Many reputation currency systems which rely on an online database which connects both parties in a transaction allow for this kind of efficiency.
Not only is hiring made easier through a reputation currency system, it is also more effective. Corporations can examine the competencies of a future employee based on his service experience and help for others, what reviews say about him, and his knowledge of his field.
The transparency and permanency of the Internet allows a corporation to see when a candidate programmer helped teach other programmers on Stack Overflow, or how well a Taskrabbit who mows people’s lawns did on his last few jobs. This is a great help in selecting good candidates as information about them is readily and easily accessible, and a candidate can be very easily distinguished as helpful, intelligent, or as a leader based on their interactions online with others.
This in itself greatly ameliorates idea flow between people and companies as it connects companies with stronger candidates faster. Given how much corporations value skilled employees with new, lucrative ideas in the knowledge economy, reputation currency is a clear boon for locating such people and utilizing their knowledge.
Furthermore, the network of connections formed through reputation currency – as was the case for the Airbnb host during the London riots – allows firms to gain an even greater access to new ideas throughout various information fields in which they employ connected workers. With the impressive acceleration of the number of patents per year in the US, there is room for conjecture that such acceleration may in part rely on the ease with which ideas are communicated between people through the Internet and expert forums online.
Firms can find stronger candidates thanks to this vigorous flow of ideas, as more and more employees, when connected online, are able to share and gain new knowledge to benefit the burgeoning knowledge economy.
How might a post-reputation currency portfolio look?
Given this understanding of both the advantages of reputation currency and its implications in the knowledge economy, one must examine how an actual portfolio might appear were reputation currency to become a major part of the modern economy. Already, Botsman has proposed a portfolio based on the information used on the websites she examines in her talk, but we may also suggest possibilities given the foci of reputation currency systems and the knowledge economy.
The use of a score system is common on sites both to quantify experience and as a measure of an employee’s skill. A good system to do so might be with certain levels of accomplishment or markers for different points, to demarcate different levels of achievement that a person has reached.
With the great potential for interconnected information online, reviews and recommendations could be easily accessible to businesses perusing candidates. This could interact with a sliding scale or a “wordle” structure of tags that easily identify the candidate, much as how Botsman showed in her presentation where words like “careful” and “helpful” were in larger type to show their repeated occurrence in multiple reviews.
This sort of portfolio would require a connection to multiple other online websites. This interconnectivity would also lead to potential for linking portfolios with other online utilities in the social networking sphere for example. By having connections between a variety of sites and services, it would be much easier to gauge a candidate holistically given all of their online actions.
There is a risk in such a connection however as it may infringe on an employee’s privacy or work-personal divide – a person conducts themselves differently on their personal Facebook than when helping a confused student on an electricians’ forum. But as has been seen with more firms asking employees to see their Facebook profiles, it is possible that in the future employees will simply have to accept having their work integrated into their personal lives. It will have to be seen how firms and people choose to use their reputation trail in every way they live and how our actions may develop trust and community in the years to come.
Given the advantages of reputation currency as an instigator of communication and idea flow, and as a creator of fast, efficient networking there are clear benefits to its use in the knowledge economy in the improvement of cohesion between people and firms and further cementing a global network of ideas and knowledge.
These advantages help to better organize and identify strong candidates in the workforce, and through the multitude of social media and networking tools available, one can conceive of a new form of portfolio based on both small-scale service duties like the ones performed by Taskrabbits and Skill-sharers, as well as larger duties within firms and longer-lasting jobs around the world where new knowledge and insight can be difficult to discover from a plethora of exceptional candidates.
Whether the knowledge economy will benefit reputation currency can only be known with time experimentation and whether the increased connectivity comes at the cost of social privacy is uncertain, but regardless, reputation currency has shown itself to be bringing communities and people back into cooperative groups again. Perhaps it’s a necessity for safety in a world where technology threatens to alienate us all.