The *Trust* Economy
Clearly what has happened over the last days with the financial markets will give people lots of things to think about. Some will blame it on capitalism, others on politicians, others in human greedy nature, others in corruption and reckless financial engineering, others in the lack of regulation…
While all the above has had an impact, I believe that the root of the problem has been the failure of the trust and reputation tools used to determines the risk of financial assets. In the 21st century, we do not yet know how to quantify *trust* in large uncontrolled environments (e.g. where financial assets get recombined all the time). In fact, the world has become so complex that we do not even know how to measure the value of what we create! … and this generates bubble after bubble after bubble.
And you may wonder why is it that I am talking about this? Well, because the Internet also suffered/suffers from similar problems, i.e. that of trust and reputation, and some Internet tools may help here. The Internet is too a large scale, unregulated distributed system, where information appears and gets mixed and re-mixed all the time (web pages, content aggregators, blogs, microblogging, etc). Before Google, it was rather cumbersome to find what you wanted and trust that it was the best page for that topic. But they provided a simple yet scalable way to evaluate the rank of a page, and even more, they managed to monetize such ranking information through ads — charging advertisers that want to appear close to highly ranked pages–, thus, probably creating the first bank and currency of the new trust economy.
As we move forward, reputation and trust will be among the most important things you will care about. After all, your time is finite and probably your most precious asset; and finding trusted goods is very time consuming. I would personally value being able to find a trusted doctor quickly, a reputed travel agency that offers me a good vacation package, or a good fund that won’t be full of subprime loans. And the same goes for companies, which will care about what is their reputation online at any point in time (e.g. right after launching a new product). So who will become the wall street of this new trust economy? Google? Facebook? Telcos?. Actually Telcos are in a very good position to become a bank of trust given that a lot of our online transactions happen through them.
Another problem with measuring trust is how to do it at scale. When a bank wants to lend to another bank or individual, it needs to determine the financial risk involve in that, however, with millions of customers and investments it is very hard to do it well. P2P has been very successful at scaling the delivery of information, so what about P2P lending and P2P reputation? This way, you scale the risk assessment process much better: each potential lender evaluates the risk of each potential borrower and rather than borrowing from the bank, you borrow from your neighbor. Done well, you shouldn´t have to pay higher interests than those offered by banks, and as a lender your risk should be lower. SeeCNN article on Peer-to-Peer lending
So I would say we pay less attention to the housing and information/IT economies and we focus in the new Trust economy.