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Friday, December 12, 2008

No Trust

I've been reading various mentions of the new report by Forrester, that provides the following information on the sources that people trust. Or basically they show that there's no trust for blogs.

I held back on posting about this because I thought I was just being defensive. Surely there's more trust than that. Having just seen posts by Ken Allan and Manish Mohan about this issue, it got me thinking some more about this issue of No Trust of blogs as sources of information. So a couple of thoughts ...

Do you see what's at the top of the list? Email from people you know. The bottom line is that for most of us, we believe people we know (and likely already trust). I certainly feel that way. I ask people I know about things and that's what often gets me to finally act. This is why I talk about the importance of new skills for Leveraging Networks, Network Feedback, Finding Expertise, Using Social Media to Find Answers to Questions, Learning through Conversation.

But what's interesting about the survey is that there is a built in assumption that you don't know the blogger. If you asked me whether I would trust information provided by a blogger I didn't know, I likely would respond the same way. However, what I've found through blogging is that I get to know lots of people including maybe especially other bloggers. Thus, when I see them post, there's not this issue of no trust. It is someone I know. No the communication is not through email - but it's very similar. It acts just like that category. When Brent, Mark, Michele, etc. (wow, these folks are like Madonna and Sting - they only need one name) say in their blog - here's this great new tool and here is how it's working for me - that fits into the top category. It gets me to believe and possibly act. If I read it from a well known blogger who I don't have that relationship with, I don't trust it the same way. Funny thing, probably not very smart, but that's true.

This does mean that as a person who blogs you must be extra careful of the trust you are given. You have to be honest. You can't shill. Because most blogs are personal and real human relationships form - you must act in a way that never engenders the no trust factor.

That said, there are a quite a lot of people who come to my blog and who don't really know me, they don't have a personal relationship, we've not exchanges around 100 Conversations yet, ... And it's a bit depressing to realize that you rank behind direct mail and online classifieds in terms of trust. That they think of what they find here the same way I think about other bloggers who I don't know. It's another data point that I will eventually validate through people I do know. A little depressing, but at least it's a data point.

One last thought, how can people respond that they trust portals and search engines? Don't these often find blog posts? How can that be trusted? To me, a set of search results are the least trustworthy. Sure, I use them, but do I "trust the results" - no way - no trust here for those sources. Give me a fellow blogger (who I know) any day.

Am I being too defensive here?


Anonymous said...

Tony, I notice there's no Forrester category for "email from people you don't know anything about." Nor is there one for "blog of someone I know," much less "email from someone I know who happens to be a raving gasbag."

So they weren't aiming for nuance. (Nor do they make explicit whether a Trust Score of 4 equates to 80%, but that's just me being picky.)

I agree with you: regularly reading someone's blog helps you decide whether to trust or at least listen to what they say. And I think regularly reading blogs in general -- especially those connected to related topics (e.g., training, learning, the brain; or open source, web 2.0, using tools) -- helps sharpen your ability to make informed judgments.

But that's similar to how you decide which non-blog sites to place confidence in, which print journals to pay attention to, which experts to seek out in person.

An example of online trust: I often find disagree with something Stephen Downes says. But he's pretty straightforward about his views and his vision, and he's consistent in the range of topics he highlights. So Stephen is definitely a trusted source for me.

As are you. You're open about what you think, you're intelligently enthusiastic, you take risks out loud, and you frequently revisit your ideas based on what you've heard from others.

If (when?) I disagree with you, it's in no small part because you're worth disagreeing with.

However, as I keep telling friends who are very plugged in: most people aren't. Most folks aren't reading blogs, let alone writing them.

If your presence is mainly online -- if you've had a blog and edited a wiki and filtered tweets and shared via delicious, you are an outlier vis-a-vis the average North American adult.

I can't do much about whether strangers trust what I say, or whether they find anything worthwhile at all. I look at search terms that bring people to my blog, and it's clear I'm often an accident. I've had 11 hits this week for "Leonid S. Sukhorukov" -- a name that appears only in a random quote in my sidebar. It's a good reminder that not all page views are created equal.

You don't need to feel defensive.

Donald Clark said...

Do I trust my network of blogs that I visit on a regular basis? Yes. Like Dave, I may disagree with them (but thats part of learning and knowing), but I trust them.

Do I trust a "company" blog, or even a "personal" blog that I know nothing about? I'm more or less neutral until I get to know them in some manner. Of course if you, Dave, or any of my other network of blogs pointed me to a blog outside my network, I would tend to trust them more.

Inge (Ignatia) de Waard said...

mmm, it is a strange phenomena. Especially if you take into account the censureship of some (local - national) search engines and the journalistic truth that is sometimes blogged in those areas.

If trust is personal (and it is as you say), then surely social media would be more trustworthy as you get connected with some of them.

Trusting you!

It would have been nice if there was a profile given. In my country they say: "what the farmer does not know, he won't eat". So maybe the people in that Forrester survey had 'old era' profiles :-)

Tony Karrer said...

Wow - great comments.

@Dave - fantastic point about Spam. We automatically delete it. That should have been at the bottom!

And agree about difference between trust and respect and disagreement. Even with someone you know, you filter. Just because Brent, Mark, etc. say this is the greatest thing, doesn't mean it will be for me.

@Donald - good point about how you found the blog and the attributes. I would think that generally I'm (like survey respondents) more suspicious of a blog as a source. But right that there are a wide variety of signals that indicate trustworthiness (other than personally knowing them).

@Inge - Great point. I suspect this was a broad cross section. And we have to keep in mind that we are all not the norm. Three bloggers responding right?

kkatz said...

Interesting, this was posted today on another blog. There is probably a cleaner way to share this information, than the cut and paste I a doing.
MicroPhilanthropy on Twitter: Trust Is Important

I couldn't sleep and was up early and Maria Thurrell and Tori Tucan told me about this micro-philanthropy (#5 on Lucy Bernholz's buzzword list) on Twitter to support Breast Cancer. The idea is the Twitter version of "Click for Breast Cancer" You follow this Twitter user @mrsrosey and she will donate $1 dollar to Susan G. Komen Foundation for each follower.

There is no other information about the identity of mrsrosey, and she isn't asking for my credit card or for anything too time consuming. So, I took a leap of faith based on the recommendation from Maria Thurrell and Tori Tucan who I trust.

I tweeted the information and two followers expressed skepticism:

codearachnid why has @mrsrosey protected their updates? I like to see what someone is s aying before following
teach42 do you know who that is? Do you have faith that they'll follow through? No website makes me suspicious
As of Friday, December 12th in the morning, she had 170 followers. It will be interesting to watch how fast this spreads. Trust appears to be an important factor in the velocity of spreading something on Twitter.

What would you do? Take a blind leap of faith based on the recommendation of a friend or stay away because you don't know the fundraiser?

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December 12, 2008 in micro-philthanthropy | Permalink

Guy Boulet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy Boulet said...

I think this should be put in perspective. How many respondents consult blogs on a daily basis? How many are bloggers themselves?

I bet there are more respondents using email or yellow pages than blogs. They probably trust what they know and if all they know about blogs is the name, how can they trust them. On the other hand, bloggers are more likely to trust blogs, aren't they?

My point is: not only do you trust people you know, you also trust the tools you use. And you most probably use them because you trust them.

Anonymous said...

Wikis rank higher than blogs by a long shot, which is rather disturbing. At least with blogs you have some idea of who is feeding you the information, corporate or not, and can then assess the information accordingly.

I can recall the massive shift that took place on the Sarah Palin Wiki after she was declared. It went from a nominal, and slightly unflattering to near haigiographic and novel length in a couple of days. I looked at it just now, and it seems to have stabilized, around the copious dossier of facts that emerged during the campaign, but who knows where it will go from here.

I suppose this is not necessarily typical of wikis, but it demonstrates their malleability under political pressure, and why you won't see academia accepting Wikipedia entries as sources in undergraduate essays.

I use Wikipedia all the time, but mostly to settle bets with friends, or to find quick answers to trivial questions that pop up into my stream of consciousness.

I think Guy's question about Forrester's methodology is probably the final word, but then I haven't seen the survey, I am loath to pay for those things. Maybe they did get it right, and I just don't like the answers.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony

What a strange and capricious thing trust is. Its composition is based on many factors. It has to be earned; though earning trust is more difficult for some (blogs/people/companies) than for others.

Society has strange scales that are used for assessing trustworthiness and the consistency of those seems to be remarkably variable.

As I said in my post, when it comes to me making a decision on whether to trust a site or not, I judge every case on its own merits. Often that can take some time, like getting to know someone.

I admire Carl Sagan's baloney detector kit. Though it doesn't necessarily all apply to reading blog posts, there are some elements that ring true for that practice too.

Thanks for the link.

Catchya later

Tony Karrer said...

This has turned into a very interesting conversation. I appreciate all the thoughts here - quite a bit more than I had ever wrapped my head around.

@Guy - you are right that people trust what they know and are used to and what they know the properties of. Once you are comfortable with those properties then you know what you are really looking at. I'm still under the impression that if you don't know the blogger, then the trust level is lower. And knowing what's involved does not always engender greater trust. For me, print probably is less trustworthy knowing how a lot of publications are done.

@Michael - that's a great point about Wikis. Although unfortunately, they point to Wikipedia as the example. FYI - on Sarah Palin - I remember reading a post that people could have known she was the VP candidate based on the surprisingly high number of changes made prior to the announcement. Wonder who made those changes? Like you I still use Wikipedia a lot. Like most people, I don't try to figure out who's putting the content there. But like most people it's more of an overview launch off point than definitive on anything.

@Ken - often we don't have time to get to know someone. Rather we have to make snap judgments based on little pieces of information. There are lots of great resources from libraries about this problem of evaluation. Most of us have our patterns figured out. But what's interesting is to hear other people's likely patterns. Oh, this is a blog by someone I don't know - I don't trust this information.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony

There may well be a need to distinguish between not trusting a person/company/blog and saying that person/company/blog is untrustworthy.

I am clearly not going to 'trust' a person that I've never met before (why should I trust them?) BUT it would be libel for me here to say that person is untrustworthy. My experience is that some people cannot tell the difference between not trusting, and untrustworthy.

I can understand the distrust that readers have when they come across a blog for the first time. I believe it's a similar emotion that prevents a lot of people from ever putting a comment on a post. Some people just 'don't trust' the Internet. They may even think that it's untrustworthy.

There are many examples of this (type of) distrust. For instance, when telephone banking was first introduced, people distrusted that system. When Internet banking became a reality, people distrusted it for the same reason – they needed time to gather more information about it, to hear of successful use, to meet people they knew who used it successfully. What would not reinforce their trust in the systems would be reports of Internet fraud or other things going wrong.

There is a mix of emotions that most people experience when they have to put their trust in something or in someone. The transactional analysis of such a situation indicates that the would-be-participant has a degree of lack of confidence that explains their unwillingness to trust.

So I’d say that it is logical for someone to say, "Oh, this is a blog by someone I don't know - I don't trust this information."

The process of gaining trust, it is cyclical, with an indeterminate period. Observations are checked against a list of criteria. The list may be a defined checklist or it may simply be a list of doubts in the mind of the observer. In most instances it’s a list of doubts.

People who are duped by a person/company/blog have not utilised their cognitive abilities to the best, and some would just say that they were “too trusting”.

In business circles, snap decisions are being made all the time - you will know this. Sometimes the decisions made, purportedly based on trust, are the wrong ones. I would say that in any snap decision, there is not sufficient time for it to be based on trust, for it takes time for the iterative cycle to permit trust to be established.

So when a person comes across a person/company/blog for the first time, they make a snap decision based on what they know. It requires an analytical mind to know what to do to validate their first formed opinion, to verify their doubts.

Let me share a few home truths with you, for I am the most trusting person I know :-)

If my experience was that I was often duped through interaction with people/companies/blogs, or I’d hear of the same happening among my friends, I might be disinclined to have anything to do with people/companies/blogs. I’m not like that of course.

Some would say that I was a very distrusting person. I’d tend to refute that statement and say that I am discerning and analytical. I try to verify, almost unequivocally, any first formed opinion that I may have (of trust OR distrust) before I make any significant decision other than transactional ones.

Unfortunately (either for me or others) most people aren’t like me, which is probably why I’m in the minority sector of society who reads blog posts and comments on them, never mind blogging about it all.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Tony Karrer said...

Ken - it's funny how saying that something is "untrustworthy" is different than saying "I don't trust this"? And it would seem to be the case that I may have gone a little close to the line (or even over) in my post ... from "people say I don't trust blogs" - to people say there's "no trust" in blogs. That's pretty close to untrustworthy.

I much prefer how you've spelled it out. And especially that we seem to have come to agreement on the logic behind -

"Oh, this is a blog by someone I don't know - I don't trust this information."

And, there's likely some good sharing to be had about how to evaluate whether trust should be given.

Britt Watwood said...

Not much to add to the wonderful comments here, but rather an endorsement of what has been said. Trust lies in the nuances, you trust your friends, and some of those friends are people you only know online or through phonecalls (Wow - I know one-name Michelle too!!!). But you do get to know people through blogs, comments, twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. The decision to follow via RSS carries with it trust implications in many cases.

Tony Karrer said...

Britt - great point about the RSS subscription relation to trust. In Manage RSS Feeds, I describe how I use Quarantine folders before I decide if I will officially subscribe. What I describe in that post is all about quality of content. I hadn't thought about the trust factor involved in that quality until you just made that comment.

Anonymous said...

I think that trust is such an open ended term. What am I trusting you to do?

I trust that you will make me look at things in a different way.

I trust that you have the experience to back up your opinions on learning and technology.

I don't know you well enough to trust you with keys to my house.

I follow your blog enough to know if you are being consistent with the stuff you have posted in the past or if you are saying something new and different. If you were to suddenly start telling everyone about your great experience with a travel company, I would take that with a grain of salt because that is not an area that you have earned my trust.

For the most part, I trust Amazon when I am looking to buy books. But, I don't automatically extend that trust to all of the vendors that also sell stuff through Amazon.

I read a few corporate blogs. The ones that are worth reading aren't trying to sell their products and services but are giving tips and tricks to using their products more effectively. One of the best "corporate blogs" gives great tips on developing eLearning that I can apply to my projects even when I am not using their product. I respect him for his efforts and trust that he will give good advice.

I think that most people can tell the difference from a balanced review and a sales job. I will trust most people's opinions if I don't feel like they have a hidden agenda or profit motive behind offering their opinions.