Monday, March 17, 2008

Trust Economies, Part Two

Not only do we not trust the people who are pushing stuff down our throats, we don't trust the machines that they use. This is what Nicole Ferraro said after Internet Evolution conducted a survey:

With a 36 percent plurality, social networking sites win out as the least trustworthy of all the online data consumers....

It seems a tad nonsensical that users feel more wary about sharing info on such sensitive items as their favorite pizza toppings and their cats' tap dancing moves than, say, their credit card numbers....

It's likely we've just become more accustomed to receiving ads from sites like Amazon, where we generally go to shop, than sites like Facebook, where we generally go to post inappropriate, job-endangering photos.

The last observation is interesting. When we're in particular situations, we expect that things are going to be distasteful.

For example, I had to call Verizon not too long ago because I had misplaced the phone number that we use to get our personal voice mail. (The "misplacement" was due to a drawback in the Outlook Contacts user interface, but I digress.) I expected that Verizon was going to try to sell me on their television service (which I don't like), and they lived down to my expectations. I expected that, I mentally prepared myself for it, so I was able to deal for it. But what happens when you're waylaid and surprised?

When I was growing up, I had a friend who went by the name Cam. Interesting guy, to say the least. I've told this story before: one day Cam invited several of us over to his place, but he wouldn't say why. We got there...and were treated to an Amway sales pitch. Not what we expected.

Let's look at my personal reaction to these two instances of selling. I don't like Verizon because they are continuously pestering me about something that I've already said that I don't want. But I REALLY don't like Amway because they tricked me. Yes, I know that Amway was not directly responsible for trapping me in a room with some shoe cleaner, and Cam probably violated several of Amway's rules by his pitch strategy, but I still associate Amway with the incident.

Extending my personal experience to the Internet Evolution study, I can understand why social networking sites are considered least trustworthy. We have this feeling that they're going to lull us into a "Hey! Let's be friends!" mode, then take us for everything that we've got.

Which makes it that much harder for us to realize a return on influence. Even Julien Smith and Chris Brogan document examples in which people have been fooled by something that seemed "real" but wasn't:

Some innocent people videotaping their RV trip across America suddenly became “that WalMart scheme.” The lonely girl in her bedroom became a production project.

Smith and Brogan encourage people to, in their words, "get involved with communities of interest, and grow these experiences and relationships BEFORE you need them."

Of course, there's always the chance that someone who appeared to be a friend may be revealed, years later, as something quite different. Just ask Eliot Spitzer.

But I think you can argue, even without definite empirical evidence, that the chances of a surprise are much lower if you've known the person at some level for a long time.

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