Simon Willison’s Weblog

Improving online credibility

If you’ve browsed Amazon’s product reviews recently you may have noticed an interesting new feature: Badges, little icons displayed below certain people’s names. This isn’t a new idea by any means—many online communities use special icons as rewards for members who make valuable contributions (SitePoint is a good example). What’s interesting about Amazon’s badges is that one of them is “Real Name”. Amazon’s Real Names FAQ explains the badge, and includes the following:

Why is encouraging the use of Real Names?

In general, we believe that a community in which people use their Real Names will ultimately have higher quality content, since an author willing to sign his or her real-world name on a piece of content is essentially saying “With my real-world identity, I stand by what I have written here.”

Real names certainly add credibility to online discussion: I for one find it much easier to trust information if the author appears to have signed their real name to it. The challenge is verifying that the name is accurate, and Amazon’s solution is so simple-but-smart that I kicked myself: they match the name against the user’s credit card details. Genius.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trick taking on a key role in the field of online identity management—provided Amazon’s patent lawyers don’t get there first.

This is Improving online credibility by Simon Willison, posted on 29th July 2004.

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