Reputation badges as a driver for benevolent behavior

I’ve had a couple travel hours today to continue my reading of Richard Alexander’s The Biology of Moral Systems. The essential thesis of the book is that our moral, benevolent behaviors are motivated by our desire to receive indirectly reciprocal benevolent behaviors from others in a way that maximize the reproduction of our genetic capital. “Indirect” means that we may not get the reciprocal behavior from the same individual as the one we originally were benevolent to. There is another indirection since we may not even ourselves get the reciprocal behavior, but it might be given to our descendants or relatives. As Jean told me a few months ago, we might want to call this “slow reciprocity”.

In other words, we are acting morally and being benevolent to others, sometimes making this moral behaviors into law because it will serve the reproduction of our genes. For instance, monogamy rule limits competition between males, which maximizes every male’s chance to reproduce.

Another example are empirical evidences that social recognition of donations is an important incentive in pro-social activities, as if we cared about talking about our donations/moral behaviors in return for reputability and ultimately obtain an indirect return even if it won’t be ourselves but our children or great grand children who will enjoy it.

For instance, this paper documents an experiment that shows that when people know that their donations are being watched, they tend to donate more.

Another example is a study on blood donors in Italy that has shown that “that donors significantly increase the frequency of their donations immediately before reaching the thresholds for which the rewards are given, but only if the prizes are publicly announced in the local newspaper and awarded in a public ceremony”.

In a Web 2.0 world, this public announcement would translate to the blood bank issuing a virtual badge  certificate, that the donor would be able to shout out to their friends on Facebook or publish on their Web sites.

There are many blood donors Facebook groups, but I don’t believe anyone requires a certified blood donation to become a member. The closest think to a blood donor reputation badge is the I give blood application, allows your blood center to automagically upload your donation and cholesterol history and your blood type to your profile page.

Badges are also used in the Foursquare social game application, but are less serious. “They are little rewards you earn for doing interesting things – e.g. staying out late on a school night or visiting places far outside your neighborhood”.

Despite the positive potential that these reputation badges could unleash, I am not aware of any standard mechanism in social networks that support this. You can advertise a donation you’re making via TipJoy, but you can’t get a certified donor/benefactor/donator for all the good things you’ve done.

As Jody Reale mentioned this morning: “Why nothing positive is ever recorded in one’s “permanent record.”

One simple way to achieve this would be for non-profits receiving donations to publish on their Web site the name of the donors. This is something Wikipedia does. It wouldn’t take much for donation receivers to microformat these pages with hReview (the URI pointing to the Web identity of the donor), in a way that it can be easily extracted, aggregated and re-published on social networks.