It’s been a little while now since I joined, and over that time a number of people in my network have noticed it (probably because somebody had vouched for them, and they were notified of that). A significant number of them have mistaken it for Yet Another Social Network, mainly because they heard of it via a social network. Others have assumed it to be a recommendation engine, like Digg for people, or Linkedin. is NOT a social network, although it uses social networking sites for initial login, connection and spreading the word. is NOT a recommendation service, although one of the first services based on it is a directory of people who are “vouched” for in particular skills or attributes. is NOT a social game, although it uses some gaming mechanisms to achieve different status levels.

So what is it, and why would you

For a number of years I have expressed the opinion that we are barely scratching the surface of the promise and potential of the internet, and there are a couple of key hurdles we need to get over before we see the best of it.

The first is identity, including anonymity, pseudonymity and “real” names: I need to be confident that your representation of identity online is authentic, even if I don’t know your name, and even if what you show is only one of a possible range of your personæ. You need to know the same about me. Over time, you can get that level of authenticity with regular interactions and consistency of expression of ideas, values, opinions across a range of media. While that can be effective, it doesn’t scale very well, nor does it necessarily cater for commercial relationships which may be one-off occurrences. The best attempt so far has been Kim Cameron’s Infocard idea (and his Seven Laws of Identity), but that has proven a little complex to be widely adopted, so Microsoft has shelved its efforts. There are a number of opensource projects still working on it, but it’s not there yet.

The second is privacy, or more specifically, individual control over where the private/public line gets drawn. There is quite a bit of work happening in this are, and I’m hopeful that useful tools will become readily available. Projects to watch include the Vendor Relationship Management (VRM, as the corollary to CRM) project initiated by Doc Searls and others at Harvard’s Berkman Center; various projects around Personal Data Stores; recent announcements like Jonathon Schwartz’s (ex-CEO of Sun Microsystems) Carezone; and commentators like Jeff Jarvis and his thoughts on “publicness”. Jeff makes the point that there are considerable benefits from being more public, using his own experience with prostate cancer to illustrate his points that sharing what may be considered very private health issues, he was able to find valuable support and medical help. Facebook, GooglePlus and a swag of other players, of course, encourage us to share our information so they have more product to sell to advertisers – the issue there is not so much that they share it (because we can get value out of better-tailored information back to us) but that the locus of control is with them, not us. As we become inevitably more public, privacy is more critical than ever, because what we don’t reveal becomes more precious to us …

The third, closely related to identity, is trust; and this is where plays. They explain the background themselves (and better than I could) on the site, and in the white paper they’ve published, so I recommend reading those sources. Old timers may recognise traces of the GPG Web of Trust idea in this, but online rather than in carbonspace.

Essentially, it amounts to people vouching for others in different spheres of interest, expertise and experience. These categories can be selected by the person whose profile it is, or those vouching can create others. The idea is that you vouch for people you know, on subjects that you know of them. There has been some evidence of trying to game the system, but there is a system in place to try and deal with that sort of behaviour. Vouches are NOT “like”, “follows” or “friends” – they carry reputational value, and are limited – you only have so many vouches to give, so you need to think carefully where and with whom you spend them.

You only get access to if and when somebody vouches for you – note that if you haven’t yet joined, any vouches will create a profile for you based on whatever social network the voucher is connected to you on. To illustrate: if you and I are connected on Linkedin, and I vouch for you, a profile is created for you based on your public Linkedin profile, and you will be notified of my vouching via a Linkedin message. This becomes your invitation to join and if you do, then you can add interests, skills and experience to your profile as categories for others to vouch for you in. As you add other social networks to your profile, all your connections on those networks are available for you to vouch for.

As you garner vouches from others, you achieve different trust levels – you get more vouches to give, you can be listed in a “services” directory, and you get more trust. As the service evolves, and more functionality gets built on it, that trust will increase in value – certainly social value and influence, and probably commercial. If the system works, and is moderated well (some early adopters are invited to be “trust anchors” who act as moderators and mentors) that value is based on something less ephemeral than followers, friends and relatively thoughtless likes – it is based on broad and deep trust.

Now comes the pitch: if you know me, and trust me on some subject(s) please take a look at my profile and vouch for me – some of you will find I’ve already vouched for you :)