Going public: how Metro leverages the value of reputation in a networked society

Mediation caught the above poster on a recent trip to the north.  it was posted on the Tyne & Wear Metro system and lists publicly the individuals who have been fined for travelling on the Metro network without a valid ticket.

it's really a rather remarkable piece of communication; listing so publicly and so prominently the names of individuals convicted of a crime.  posting names up where friends, family and bosses can (as I'm sure the individuals included are all too aware) readily see them.  the BBC's License fee campaign of a few years ago may have put our postcodes on 48s but it didn't go as far as broadcasting names, ages and area of residence up for all to see in a public space.  they're even available for download on the internet (here if you're so inclined).

whilst it is, of course, a contemporary version of a very long-standing tradition of using public knowledge of a crime to shame an individual – a tradition that goes back to the public stocks of centuries earlier – the sheer publicity of it still surprises.

the culture of the UK has a very established sense of privacy.  it's not like that everywhere.  in Finland – as Rory Sutherland observes in a post on his BrandRepublic blog – your salary is a matter of public record that anyone can inquire about via return of text message.  here that information is something you'd probably only share with HR, the tax man and your partner (and sometimes, Mediation imagines, not the latter).

what this – the above poster – is about, is reputation.  in a digitally-networked society, the importance of your reputation is heightened.  how good or respected you are is in many ways a matter of record for the network.

increasingly however, as citizens contribute to the collective contents of a culture thru user-generated-content, reputation takes on a heightened meaning; reputation becomes a valued commodity.  as Eric Raymond observes in his Cathedral and Bazaar, in a gift culture, you don't get paid in money by producing something
scarce (content is abundant); rather you give things away but get paid in reputation.  this blog is a case in point.

the individuals in the above poster may have been fined on average £265, but the cost to their reputation in a networked society may come to be far greater.


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