This post was originally published on socialsim

How do people develop reputations online? Is it quality of content? Is it how much they give away? Is it dogged determinism and dedication to their cause (in as public a medium as possible)? I’ve been looking at reputation in social virtual worlds like Second Life in the Methods chapter of my PhD. These are unique online environments for reputation development, as the reputation systems are based on the balance between the gift economy of online and the currency-based economies established by the world designers.

Raymond (2000) argues that the only way to gauge success in online communities is to compete over reputation; prestige has greater value in virtual than offline worlds (Sun, 2006). Because Second Life perpetuates, Residents’ online identities also embody the reputations that have been formed through interpersonal interaction over time. In an environment that is characterised by generalised sharing (Bergquist, 2001; Rheingold, 1993), where there are few methods of determining value, and gifts are frequently exchanged, Bergquist (2001) argues that social relationships are not based upon what individuals can control, but on what they choose to give away. In some virtual environments, this practice is viewed as a public service duty (Taylor, 2003; Sun, 2006). Gifts in online situations are still relevant as social practices, but they are used in different ways. They have a socially-binding power (Giesler, 2006; Taylor (2003) observes that part of the socialization process in online communities is learning the rituals and rules associated with gift-giving.

Although gift-giving in cyberspace usually implies giving information (Giesler, 2006), the object-creation component of Second Life provides another aspect relevant to the development of reputation. Object creators have options for their output: they may give it away freely and allow others to share it, they may give it away but not allow others to share it or they may sell it in exchange for Linden Dollars to a single user. The monetary value associated with some objects undermines the gift-economic basis in this online community, yet the free sharing of objects and information, based often on abundance and ease, creates a system where peer review is still a valid basis for the Second Life reputation (Hemetsberger, 2002; Raymond, 2000; Bergquist, 2001; Chiu, 2006).

High status means having access to restricted assets, control over the community and other privileges (Taylor, 2003; Correll, 1995). It can also be gained through quality contribution. Objects aren’t the only assets that can be high quality; the development of close online relationships is correlated with high-quality disclosure (Leung, 2000). Interpersonally, Residents may develop reputations within their immediate social circles, or they may develop social capital throughout the virtual world. However, notable areas in which Second Life-wide reputation is attained is in business, building or by providing a service (Au, 2007), suggesting that in this virtual community, the network’s hierarchy is dominated by its creators.

What do you think?