As evidenced by the many lawsuits against Google concerning PageRank or other search result (read reputational) slippage, the notion that you own your digital reputation — even if it is at bottom a collaborative work that begins with your actions, but thereafter depends on the reactions of others — has legs. Michael O'Connor Clarke wrote an interesting post along these lines at Uninstalled called Web 3.0 and Personal Reputation Management:
I'm still not quite sure where I'm going with this, but I feel the need for some secure, personal repository that would hold all of my connections and "whuffie" together. I want to keep my whuffie in my wallet - but not in a Microsoft Passport/Hailstorm kind of way. Ack, no.
It should include most elements of OpenID, a lot of FOAF, and maybe some of the stuff being worked on by the Attention Trust people.
I want it in XML, of course, and I want it to be incredibly easy to implement and use, as secure as it possibly can be, and extensible without being completely unmanageable.
Naturally, I’d want everyone to adopt it – from eBay to Amazon, Facebook to Flickr, Google to Microsoft to Yahoo.
Critically: no vendor (or government) can own it.
My reputation and relationships are mine. They're the sum of the gifts of friendship and respect people grant to one another over the years; the currency we earn through our life and work. And like the other, folding kind of currency, I should be able to carry my stock of links, linkages and laurels with me from one Web experience to the next.
In law, the intrinsic value of one's reputation crops up in the mishmash of defamation, intentional interference, and right of publicity principles. Privacy too, since reputation depends as well on what one does not reveal. (You should, or wait you shouldn't, see the dishevelled snarl that is my hair right now.) And let's not forget intellectual property (there's the "P" word), since copyright, patent, and particularly trademark exist in part to protect the reputational identity that accompanies the acts of creating and doing business.
The Attention Trust says that attention is property, that you own it and can store it where you wish, and that such ownership and the right of control go hand in hand. Michael suggests the same is true of reputation. It's more difficult for me to get my arms around what the sum total of one's reputation might be, and whatever it is, whether it matters that it's a joint and not a solo creation (e.g., Tom Williams' act of Facebook-friending Michael and vice versa). However, these seem like mere speed bumps to recognizing rights of ownership and control comparable to those posited for attention.
More from Joe Andrieu.
[Disclosure: I'm on the Board of the Attention Trust.]