Democratizing Reputation

I was an early adopter of LinkedIn. As one of the first 50K people to join the platform in 2003, I started blogging about it in 2008 and worked there from 2010 to 2015. I saw LinkedIn democratizing the talent marketplace, allowing anyone with talent to connect with relevant professional opportunities.

I was also one of the first people on Quora. Again, I was attracted to a democratizing platform where people could freely share their expertise and thus establish their professional reputation.

I believe that both LinkedIn and Quora have greatly improved the marketplace of talent and expertise.

LinkedIn has given millions of people control over the most visible representation of their professional identity. For many people, LinkedIn has made their talent discoverable. Quora has assembled a fantastic repository of knowledge and opinion, and it’s done a great job of combining objective and subjective question answering with community participation.

But I’m not sure either platform still acts as a democratizing force.

Unfortunately, I see both platforms reinforcing flawed reputation signals more than overcoming them by establishing their own ground truth.

A small fraction of LinkedIn’s members account for the overwhelming majority of profile views. LinkedIn makes everyone discoverable, but it makes some people more discoverable than others. The same markers that recruiters favor in resumes — prestigious schools and employers — have become the most common search criteria for recruiters. Moreover, LinkedIn’s ranking algorithms favor people with strong professional networks — a sensible approach that nonetheless creates positive feedback.

Quora has a similar problem. It’s great that the company wants to promote quality content. But a major factor used to determine content quality is the author’s credibility based on credentials. The exact same content receives a higher quality score when it comes from someone with stronger credentials —which hardly feels like democratizing reputation.

Establishing ground truth for reputation is hard.

It’s natural that LinkedIn and Quora lean on established offline reputation signals. But I’d like to see them find ways to avoid amplifying societal biases.

For example, LinkedIn could use its data to help recruiters diversify beyond familiar markers. Quora might try blinding authorship to see how content fares without the presumption of the author’s authority. Both could use explore / exploit approaches to manage the trade-off between obtaining new reputation signals and relying on old ones.

Establishing ground-truth reputation signals isn’t easy. But success would create enormous business value, as well as contributing to a fairer society.

Platforms like LinkedIn and Quora have great power to shape the reputation ecosystem. I hope they will live up to this great responsibility.