Metcalfe's column: Open Ratings Touts Trust for Internet Commerce

My favorite song is Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It was Carole King's first hit, recorded in 1960 by The Shirelles. Sigh.

And now I've got it on a long-playing 33rpm stereo record, The Shirelles Greatest Hits, thanks to my first auction at Amazon.com.

I won the auction in several hours, with no competing bids, at the minimum price. Then came the hard part.

Could I trust someone named "dancebeat" in Cleveland to send me the record in one piece if I were fool enough to mail her a check?

Amazon said I could reach dancebeat at jmabin1001@aol.com. Could there be 1,001 people named jmabin? Jan Mabin responded promptly with shipping options.

Heck, it was only $20, and I was sure to get a column out of it.

So, walking out to the mailbox just before bedtime, I sang to Jan, "Tonight with words unspoken, You say that I'm the only one, But will my heart be broken, When the night meets the morning sun?"

A few nights met the morning sun before The Shirelles arrived in ... perfect condition.

Amazon asked, and I gave dancebeat a perfect five-star rating. Dancebeat was no deadbeat. I'll always remember that mine was Jan's first rating.

Cut to Monterey, Calif. There I saw Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Pattie Maes at Richard Saul Wurman's TED Conference. Maes founded Firefly Networks and sold it to Microsoft in 1998. The company used collaborative filtering to make purchase recommendations.

Maes had a press kit for her 1999 company, Open Ratings, which just announced a "reputation rating service." The company's aim is to increase trust among buyers and sellers in Internet commerce. I wondered, "Is this a lasting treasure, Or just a moment's pleasure?"

Cut to Cambridge, Mass. There, armed with my new camera crew, I cornered Open Ratings Chief Executive Officer Stan Smith and Vice President of Development Dan Feldman.

Open Ratings is a Web service through which buyers and sellers in business-to-business I-commerce are able to rate one another, as I did Jan at Amazon.com. The ratings, which number one through five, are run through fancy collaborative-filtering artificial-intelligence machine-learning algorithms and used to reassure (or not) prospective participants in future transactions.

I asked Smith and Feldman, "Who owns the fact that you are a deadbeat?"

Their answer was, "Not you," and the good news at Open Ratings is that anybody can find out.

Open Ratings aims to increase trust, without violating privacy, by using anonymity. Similar to the method used at Firefly Networks, participants identify themselves with aliases. Buyers and sellers can have several aliases, separate or linked, but these are not associated with their coordinates in the real world.

What if somebody slanders you? First, raters have to qualify. You have to buy or sell something with them before they are allowed to rate you. Second, raters have ratings. They gain or lose algorithmic influence based on how closely their ratings predict transaction performance.

Open Ratings will co-brand its service with portals, e-markets, and auctions all over the Internet. What I do at Amazon.com is currently not reflected in ratings at eBay.com. But Open Ratings will be portable.

Open Ratings will be a big boost to I-commerce. Safer transactions mean more transactions. The company plans to make its money based on increases in transaction revenue.

What happens when someone does not like his or her rating? Smith and Feldman say it's better to repair a bad rating with good behavior, but you can disassociate yourself from a poor reputation alias. And they say they're a carrier, not a rater, so they can't be sued. Ha!

For more, see www.openratings.com. And tune in to our new Webcast, Live From the Ether, debuting on Wednesday, March 22, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, or anytime thereafter at www.itworld.com/metcalfe.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe would like to know that your love is love he can be sure of. So tell him now, at metcalfe@infoworld.com, and he won't ask again, will you still love me tomorrow?

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