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.

Twitternomics, the Twitter currency, and the monetization of Twitter

In my previous post, I argued that the ReTweet (RT) is the currency of Twitter. The rationale goes: When you RT, you extend or donate some of your reputation to the Twitter user who originally tweeted, and you should earn something for it, say some RT credits or possibly even some hard dollars. The service ReTweetRank, which ranks people according to how much their tweets are re-tweeted seems to follow the same line of thought:

Retweets are great indication of the originator’s topical influence and the audience’s interest.

There is a major issue with my argument though:  it’s not because I donate something to you, that it necessarily has value to you. It only does if you acknowledge so. We can assume it does since you are following the person, but that’s a quite rough estimate.

So, things are a little more complex and we have to dig a little deeper. It’s good to start with some Twitter economics or Twitternomics:

When you tweet (or re-tweet), you essentially donate to your audience a piece of information that you think has value to them. But only when your audience acknowledges your tweet’s value, you should earn something from them.

What are these acknowledgments:

  • The simplest form of acknowledgment is to spend the time to read the Tweet, but unfortunately that’s not trackable. The closest thing is to know which unique Tweets in the authenticated user’s friend timeline has been retrieved from Twitter, which is not easily trackable across all Twitter clients (except by Twitter themselves).
  • The next form of acknowledgment is to click on the link provided in the Tweet, if any. Normally these clicks would be hard to track, but since most Twitter users use URL shortening services like, the URL indirection provides a point of tracking how many did visit the URL. One problem is that it is difficult to track who actually clicked, but this could be easily resolved if Twitter or a Twitter intermediary was rewriting all the URLs to include the username of the authenticated user.
  • The next form of acknowledgment is the ReTweet.
  • The ultimate acknowledge is to make the Tweet a favorite. I put this one at the top because it is a persistent acknowledgment, not a transient acknowledgment like the RT or the URL click. But my guess is that it is also not as used as a RT simply because they don’t drive as much traffic (who tracks your favorite Tweets? not many people).

To come back to when you earn or when you spend Twitter credits or Tweetbucks or RT$:

  • you earn a credit when someone acknowledges your Tweet. Say, 1 Twitter cent for a view, 3 Twitter cents for a click, 5 Twitter cents for a RT and 8 Twitter cents for a fave. This isn’t too far from what I mentioned in last year post How to measure someone’s Whuffie.
  • conversely, you pay 1 Twitter cent for a view, 3 Twitter cents for a click, 5 Twitter cents for a RT and 8 Twitter cents for a fave. In other words, it costs you to be nice to others (giving attention or clicking buttons and writing things takes some of your valuable time indeed).
  • The ReTweet is a special case. If @a retweets @b (“RT @b check out this link”), it would make sense that any click on the link or further RT (“RT @a RT @b …”) should earn both @a and @b something. @a acts as a distribution channel and should take a share of the credits earned, say 50%.

So far, this is a zero sum game with funny money and no-one loses anything.

Just like RetweetRank, a list of the richest (in Twitter $) Twitter users could be compiled and people may start to compete for a better rank.

A simple business model might consist in providing a foreign exchange mechanism between Twitter $ and real U.S. dollars. Twitter users with positive balances would be able to offer their Twitter $ for sale, and Twitter users with negative balances would be able to offer to buy in U.S. dollars. Twitter would simply take a commission on the fee.

Of course, this isn’t incompatible with Twitter offering the possibility for users to pay for RTs rather than charge for them, as a way to provide additional incentives for users to RT.