From The Independent:
"Google, the world's biggest search engine, is being sued by a London businessman in a landmark legal action that could hold the US-based company liable for the publication of inaccurate, malicious or damaging material on the internet."
This case is already achieving "landmark legal status" - the question remains whether a successful defamation ruling against Google would have dramatic consequences for thousands of similar organizations or ISP's who are in the business of channeling content to millions of Internet users around the globe.
In an earlier post, I touched on this idea of giving people control over their own data, and the ability to take that data from site to site. Projects like OpenID are giving us the opportunity to look at digital wallets in a whole new way and providing interoperable systems that talk to one another.
From a reputation management standpoint, the idea of being able to aggregate your online participation and contributions in various online communities is both convenient and powerful. This idea of carrying a digital wallet like some social currency could work in a way that provides us access to the social communities we want to be a part of, but just because your a good merchant on eBay doesn't mean you are the right fit for a hobby-themed message board.
And as much as it would make sense to be able to carry data that speaks on our online relationships and reputation, new projects that give others a full view of our online experiences and where we've been ought to take into account that there are very complex issues associated to identity management.
The idea of making our identities mobile extends to this user-centric model which puts the person in full control over the management of their relationships with different commercial websites. Its one that attempts to simplify our online travels as we navigate our way through the Web. But with new and emerging projects that combine meta data from different sites, and big players participating in the next wave of making our identities mobile, how can we ensure that convenience and privacy will be properly balanced to allow the social community to grow and flourish?
How do we prevent bad apples and malcontents from committing fraud or from being a disruptive element within the community? One of the ways we currently use to maintain some order is by providing junk information at sign-up or while registering for an account. Its a process that validates that the registrant is a person, but it doesn't imply thats who that person really is. Its a scenario that reveals a faulty namespace with people and identities that are not really our own. As we enter into this wave of lowering the barriers of participation, we need to think about how to address current problems, and strike that balance that has been lacking up until now.
For many companies, managing their online reputation involves a commitment of time, effort and hard work. It means monitoring online perceptions, listening to online audiences and in some cases that means making the necessary changes called out by their users to improve current business models and practices.
Initiatives like Zerofootprint have made me wonder whether a companies approach to reducing their environmental footprint will eventually become a means by which their reputations will be measured.
Will consumers and Web audiences expect companies to join in and do their part, and will it harm the reputation of companies that overlook or have been caught lagging badly behind on environmental counterbalancing initiatives? What has your company done to reduce its carbon footprint, and what offsets are being implemented?
If going Green means making the kinds of changes that contribute to the cause, then it has to dig deeper than paying our way towards "feeling good" and juggling carbon offset purchases each month. For instance, as someone serving in a technical capacity, going Green may mean considering some of the problems associated to the disposal of old computer equipment. Am I doing my part by agreeing to pay a recycling tax on computers as part of an overall e-waste strategy?
In addition to taking part in programs like Little Geeks, which collects and re-distributes refurbished computers to children in need, do I stop buying new computers, or do I look at purchases that will extend the life of my computing needs and requirements so I won't have to buy a new PC or server every 6 months to a year?
What impact will staggering my purchases on computing equipment have on the relationships I've built with vendors? Will such initiatives be in line with the hardware requirements dictated by the software I rely on most? While the fight against climate change presents great challenge, the one thing that I really like about initiatives like Zerofootprint is that it allows us to see how the corporate community are responding to reducing their environmental footprint. Whether or not there will be rewards reaped for those first in line, and consequences for the laggards, its creating a level of awareness that will get people thinking about doing their part.
On the drive home from a weekend Father's Day getaway, I caught an intriguing radio interview with Red Light Center's CEO Brian Shuster.
For many listeners, it was a first-time introduction to what the Web 3.0 will be all about. Even if you might find yourself on the "anti" side of the debate over adult content on the Web, the RLC guys deserve some credit for taking creativity to a whole new level.
Themed on a similar virtual plane as Second Life, RLC provides its residents a community filled with online sexual experiences and "virtual drugs".
While indulging in one's deepest and darkest fantasies may be interesting to some, the part of the interview I found most intriguing is when Brian Shuster was describing RLC's methods of community profiling. Specifically the interconnection between one's avatar, and how each user can choose how they want to portray themselves in the social environment.
This idea that the Web 3.0 will allow us to travel so freely and create these virtual identifies in these far away places - perhaps meant as a way to escape from real world realities - is fascinating, but at the same time somewhat concerning. While listening to the program, it reminded me of a great blog post by Michael O'Oconnor Clarke, which also touched on the Web 3.0, and this idea of taking reputations and relationships along with us as we backpack our way through the many social communities and online networking environments.
Your reputation is key to not only your business or personal survival, but its equally important in forming new relationships in the rapidly maturing social networking spaces. This hearkens back to the notion of making a good first impression. This notion of making our identities more mobile to share our earlier experiences in other online communities - a digital wallet of sorts that would really work much like the kind of credibility your real world identification would establish for a loan manager at a bank. Try going to a bank with your credit report in shambles and see if you get the loan.
Similarly, if your online footprint reveals that you're a bad apple, then you might not be added as quickly to a friends list, or worse, your new boss, potential business partner or client may take a pass. Ironically, crossing the line or having a bad online reputation hasn't always produced the same consequences as being turned down for a bank loan because some have worked hard to bury any negative online attention. After all, reputations and relationships do matter, and some would just rather have a fresh start.
The lack of interconnection among the variety of social networking communities makes it difficult to string together a profile that works like an online currency that allows people to see who you are and what you've done, and the whole six degrees of separation thing helps too. Some have worked hard to establish their online reps and relationships, so it only would make sense for people to quickly pinpoint the interconnections between ones blog, facebook, MySpace, Friendster and LinkedIn profiles.
And then it occurred to me that a lot of the way these interconnections could be bridged in the Web 3.0 may well enhance our user experiences, but could also complicate and compound some of the problems with avatar based personalities - specifically those personalities ill-equipped to be a involved with the interactive Web. Putting aside the dark and sinister aspects of those who might be inclined to hide behind an avatar, what will the Web 3.0 do to correct some of problems related to the way our current interaction lacks personal and constructive expression?
Will the Web 3.0 reveal a virtual world that will further complicate problems associated to cyberbullying, threats, and online attacks that can harm a persons reputation or brand? Will we see people abiding to more responsible online conduct because they are now feeling uninhibited through this understanding that how one "portray's" oneself online doesn't necessarily imply that they are that way in real life? And when the real nastiness begins, will conflict resolution be occurring with the person who gets into character for their virtual-world avatar, or the person whose nose is out of joint and is ready to drag someone's good name through the roughest and scariest parts of the Web? With the impersonal nature of the Web 2.0 already making us less inclined to get out and keep ourselves physically active, will we be worse off when the 3-D world of the Web makes its way to an online PC near you?
This idea that RLC is providing an online audience from experiencing their deepest and darkest fantasies without the negative effects in the real world is still strange to me. Its almost as if the Web is being pegged to become this place where reckless behaviour and the abandonment of common sense meet. The downside to looking at this online experience more holistically or as a lifestyle replacement is that negative effects portrayed in the virtual world will be considered a form of personal expression, but when people begin to have a problem differentiating between the virtual and real world, will the more serious transgressions come without real world consequences?
tra.cktion is an inbuilt comment tracking feature to RepuTrace(TM). It combines the words tracking + mention and it's very quickly become an integral part of our firms approach to blog monitoring and measurement. The ability to track comments compliments our overall strategy of staying on top of online discussion, tracking sentiment at the point of post publication, as well as the handling of the discussion through follow-up commentary.
tra.cktion also expands on our proprietary methods of determining importance of discussion based on incidences of blogrolls, blogs that link to the blog author, and that bloggers influence and reach.
As mentioned, its become an efficient platform to effectively monitor discussion, specifically the kind of follow-up discussion that can sometimes make or break a brand.
In addition to using tra.cktion to follow-up on blog topics and discussions on behalf of our clients, I use tra.cktion to keep an eye on blog posts where I've shared comments or insights.
A recent comment I left on Matt Cutts blog discussing Matt's frustration with Privacy International after a damning report was released has, at the time I posted this blog, reached 198 comments. I was tempted to disable the notifications (a simple on/off toggle on the tra.cktion console), but then I realized that something interesting was happening in the blog measurement and micro-analytic area of RepuTrace(TM).
The post originally concerned Matt's views towards Privacy International. Naturally because Matt's with Google, the sentiment analysis and comment handling would be compiled for both companies. Outside of the way the positive, neutral and negative sentiment has been accumulating and tabulating to arrive at a score for each individual company, a quick glance at the links and blogrolls to Matt's blog also reveals that external discussion carried the same momentum of not only Matt's original views and sentiment, but the views and opinions found in some of the follow-up commentary are now carrying their own steam in other areas of the Web.
Could this be an anomaly in the blogosphere, or a sensitive topic which has hit raw nerves? Will Matt's blog post open the floodgates to a fierce Net privacy debate - a warm-up to Google's street-level view? As much as I realize that such painstaking analysis is reserved for the role of further review and interpretation by savvy PR and Marketing types, it also made me realize that although comment tracking is at its infancy, its already taking on a life of its own as it pertains to brand and reputation monitoring of social media. Its just as important to monitor and take into account follow-up views and opinions as it is to follow the opinions of even the most influential blogger.
Another thing its made me realize is that there just may be some room for expanding our real-time analytic graphing and reporting to include drag-node charting of all the intricate patterns, discussions, blogrolls, link events and blogger influence trends happening on our tra.cktion platform. Maybe even in time for our R3 release!
It seems that the calls earlier this year for a bloggers code of conduct are being met with the courts cracking down on blogger misconduct.
Last week, The Gazette reported on a lawsuit which involved blogger and art gallery proprietor Chris Hand allegedly defaming art agent Pierre-Antoine Tremblay - a lawsuit which is asking Hand to pay $25,000 in damages. The Canadian Press reported another case where the president of Steelback Brewery has filed a $2 million lawuit which alleges an Ottawa-based blogger and sportswriter Neate Sager libelled Mr. D'Angelo on his blog. The statement of claim argues the comments “severely damaged Mr. D'Angelo's credit, character and reputation.”
Whether we are talking about cyber-bullying, uttering threats, or damaging an individual or businesses good name, how far is too far?
As I have discussed in the past, promoting violent action or uttering threats against individuals lives on a blog or message board are a form of criminal activity punishable by law. In the case of Kathy Sierra, the stalking and threats to her life were clearly taking things too far. When the matter concerns uttering threats against peoples lives, freedom of speech advocates should take into account that no person should have to go into hiding, as hiding can and will severely interfere with one's list of places to go and people to see.
Where does one draw the line between freedom of personal expression and censorship when matters concern derogatory comments causing damage to a person or businesses reputation? The Kathy Sierra case inspired fiery debate and resistance against cyber-bullying and speech which incites hatred and violence, calling for a bloggers code of conduct to clearly define how to and how not to behave.
As good an idea as it might seem for bloggers to follow some guidelines in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation, the problem is that nobody is really forced to abide. The rise in the number of lawsuits cracking down on inappropriate online behaviour makes it clear that freedom of personal expression isn't the same as expression without consequence, and as such, the courts appear to be the last bastion of hope in cracking down on the more extreme cases of blogger misconduct.
Danny Sullivan does a great job poking holes in the report and Google's Matt Cutts was frustrated by the report. Both Danny and Matt do point out some of the flaws with Privacy Internationals research undertaking and the quality of its findings, and wonder whether Google's competitors might use this report as nothing more than a way to point out they aren't as bad.
An interesting side discussion which is also taking form is one that discusses Google's lack of participation in this recent wave of online attention towards Net privacy and how their silence is harming their otherwise solid reputation. Their lack of engagement isn't doing anything to allay peoples fears, and the optics of not participating does lend itself to this perception of Google being this arrogant and unassailable Internet despot.
RepuTrace™ is the All-in-One Corporate Intelligence Tool which can also be used to assist in the areas of brand and reputation monitoring, investigations, competitive intelligence gathering, market intelligence analysis and research or even to protect against counterfeit brand issues.
To schedule a free online-demonstration of RepuTrace™, click here.
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Below are some links to product or company mentions in mainstream media:
Protecting the firm’s name on the web | Law Times
Safeguard Your Brand Reputation Online | Inc. Technology
They’ve got their eyes on you—are your ears burning? | ComputerWorld Canada
Blog author threatens to go "on a killing spree" | CNW Group
Blog author threatens to go "on a killing spree" | PR Newswire
Tips on Safeguarding Your Online Reputation | WSJ Startup Journal