The Digital Media Ethics Textbook

Charles Ess‘ „Digital Media Ethics“ is unique and amazing in several ways:

  • It’s a genuinely philosophical book investigating ethical traditions in the light of potential new challenges brought up by digital media
  • It’s areal textbook with exercises, practical questions and homework
  • It does not use theoretical dilemmas to illustrate philosophical questions, but the Facebook- or Gmail-Terms and Conditions
  • It finally (for me) clarifies, where the term ubuntu comes from…

Ess investigates potential new ethical challenges that arise in the context of digital media. This does not mean it’s about copyright only.
A major question is wether digital(online) media empower (free speech) or enslave people (spread structures from western civilization all over the world), whether online communication makes us less sensitive and responsible (because it’s only disembodied words) or more powerful and thus requires more responsibility (because our communication has much more reach and impact).
These questions can not be asked nor answered per se – they always depend from the ethical or even more basic metaphysical frameworks we presuppose. This is where online media prove that they really need to be treated in a different way then classical media or other forms of human relationships: They are not only a means of distribution or documentation with new features and possibilities, they also offer – through their genuine features – much more and different contents than any other type of media. We know much more (content) and in the same time much less (context), we can compare opinions and change perspectives – but we have to be very careful with that.
We seemingly know a lot, but only on the surface. On the ther hand: We never know more than just the surface – the rest is our imagination. Knowing and respecting this is one of the most important ethical guidelines that derive from the inspection of digital media – and that can not only be illustrated, but also trained through the used of digital online media.

This is an aspect we also cover in our upcoming book „Wie die Tiere“ (currently available in German only and out in December): What are the borders of meaning and communication, and why do we understand each other anyhow?

Trust Exchange and Regulation: Where Online Media Sabotage Trust

Trust, Media, Regulations

The word says it all – but only at second glance: Selfregulation means „Don’t dare“, „You better…“, „You can do it on your own or we will do it for you“ – it’s just a euphemism for early submission and voluntary slavery. But it seems to be a common idea to talk about regulation, too, if the actual topic is online media and trust.
The german Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research (University Hamburg) published a reader on trust in contents and the means foster trust. Several experts describe online media, discuss some challenges (advertising, young users, the right to counterstatements) and largely present means, strategies and practices for selfregulation.
There are a few things that I consider as truly remarkable:

  • The book deals with new online media, but there is not even a preview or a summary online, you have to buy it.
  • The accompanying website that is still promoted from the institures website is not online – the url takes you to a domain registrar.
  • The reader dedicates more than 200 pages to describe how to regulate – but 7 lines on the question why regulation is necessary, which targets should be achieved and what regulation should be good for.
  • And a few times, they even mention collaboration and wiki-style collaboration with users as a means for regulation.

Ok, one goal that is also described in the title, is that to build trust. But again – what for?
This takes us to a few interesting assumptions that are hidden somewhere deep in the basics of the regulatory discussion:

#1: Whom to address with regulation efforts?

Number one: Government representatives obviously really and truly think that they should and can regulate online media and the internet. No wonder that this position is unquestioned throughout all contributions in this book – it is the summary of a government/EU-sponsored conference -, but I consider it as really strange that some participating scientists and representatives think it may be necessary or even new to recommend the participation of the industry in regulation. After all, they might know something about their business.
Leaving everything to „the industry“ of course is not an option either. But it is one of the key achievements of online media, e commerce and a slight, beginnig change in spirit, that there is not „the industry“ anymore. Especially in the media business, but also in the brick and mortar businesses and even in retail, attitudes, business models and business goals change.
The „old“, profit oriented industry is the main contact for regulators – they have the visible impact, they have defined the rules of the business so far, and they have the power to be really harmful: be it through mental or chemical pollution, by creating economic dependencies or by controlling too big pieces of the cake.
Regulating the old industries by reducing a bit of the quantity and impact of their business, but confirming the general way they do business, will not help to develop new ways of cooperation, sharing or sustainable business. It will keep everything as it is, maybe it will help those who claim to be powerful to feel a little bit more comfortable.
Another way is to support the „other industry“ in doing business. This is not a matter of donating money or investing a little bit in technology projects. This is a matter of creating regulations and support-structures that empower people to do business. It does not have to be difficult to get something started – there should bot be minimum limits of turnover businesses have to deliver in order to be businesses (and part of a social insurance system). – Why do some european cities have an abundant culture of restaurants from all over the world, whereas others only have fast food and high class cuisine? Why do some 25 year olds have a long list of activities in their CV, and others only an education?
Regulating the „other“ industries is something that governments can’t do. This will create boring islands or it will again support the mainstream only. Creating prerequisites to do different business is a far more promising challenge for both governments and the old industry, if they want to participate.

#2: What kind of trust is built by regulation?

The first point dealt with what and how to regulate. Now I want to question what regulation is good for and why the discussion is likely to be related to trust.
Again, we have to ask whom we address with regulatory efforts. Following the discussion of the regulation conference, I assume it is the old industry. Regulation is supposed to increase trust. This is explicitly mentionend several times:The authors want to define common characteristics for trustworthy publishers, they want to research why online publishers (in their opinion) are not as trustworthy as offline publishers, they want to built trust in the industry and in the users – and they want to support and act in the name of public interest. – What kind of trust is this?
The main assumption in this idea of trust and common sense is: They want to trust that everybody does what he should do. This is not trust as a quality – we can start something new, we don’t have to agree on every detail, but we will sort it out -, but trust as part of an easy and straight calculation: If I do this, you do that – because we agreed on it, because you have to, because it fits to whatever is expected – but not because this is a personal quality. „You“ are not important in this equation; everybody would have to do the same.
Trust in this regard is nothing personal and nothing voluntary anymore – actually to be trustworthy (or to act as if you were a trustworthy person) rather turns into an obligation that can be executed by force.
Why this shift? Trust as a merely functional term (a means to reduce complexity as the systems theory put it) is closely related to common sense and daily experience: We trust that things will be as they are, that changes will be corrected. This means that we don’t trust in persons, but we trust in power. We trust that the powerful have the ability to keep the world as it is. Depending on where you are currently situated in the food chain, trust turns into a synonym for either hope or despair: All three termns describe rather passive behaviour – but trust should rather be a personal thing… – or are there just different levels of trust? (That would require a closer look).
Anyhow, to get back to the goal of regulation: It seems to turn out, that the main target of regulation that wants to build trust, is to avoid harm. Fear is a strong driver. Trusting users want to trust in that they don’t get hurt, that their personal and financial belongings are not hurt.
This can be ensured by power. Positive trust, trust in growth, trust that is not related to fear, can not be granted by power. Even more: This kind of fear-trust-hybrid is only suitable towards the powerful. We don’t need to trust the weak, because we can control them. And they can’t hurt us anyway.

#3 Does power have negative influences on trustworthiness?

This makes me ask my third question: Can we trust in power? And can the powerful build trust? Or is the term trust, used in the context of power, just a smooth disguise for force?
We need trust as a regulatory force in the absence of a contract. Not all details are cared for, we don’t have the power to fix this on or own – this is when we need to trust. Contracts, on the other hand, require that both partys have equal powers, or we may even fear that the other one is more powerful then we are. If we get a fair contract form a stronger partner, then we are good imposters – cheating is one of the main qualities that is trained and improved in an area that makes heavy use of contracts.
The consequence in this: If we have good contracts, we don’t need trust. Where power is involved, we need good contracts. Can we summarise that there is no trust where there is power?
I think this true if we are directly facing powerful individuals, institutions or organisations. We can´t trust them; why should we, and why should they act trustworthy, at least in those areas where they are really powerful?
What we can do, is trust in general settings, in the case of media, in the power of the public opinion. There is a common sense, a general preunderstanding that keeps others from harming us – because they fear reaction, because they have a moral sense or because they just don’t care about us; we are not even important enough.
We trust in general ethics, we trust that things will work out and that, if we did not care for all the details, somebody else (or the development of common sense does that for us. – This presupposes that the one who cared for this details knows what is important for us; it presupposes that we share common goals and values.

#4 Conclusions

There are several conlusions we can take away from here:

  • We can only trust, if we want, what everybody else ones.
  • Regulatory efforts – as most other government efforts in difficult areas – affect only those who don’t cause a problem anyhow; the outlaws are not touched.
  • Trust is only appropriate, if it is already superfluous.
  • We only deserve trust, if we are ready to do what others want us to do. As soon as we want to take them somewhere, we loose the right to be trusted.
  • Do new onnline media, as a splitting force of the public opinion, sabotage this type of general trust?
  • Trust is speculation: To trust the unknown is to create myths, that are rather representations of ourselves than of the unknown. The unknown can’t be trusted. – But that does not matter.

But they all, in my opinion, are clear indicators that we still know too little about online media to apply regulations from such remote institutions as government.
Please come again later; don’t call us, we’ll call you… 🙂

The Philosopher, the Wolf, the Dog and the Fleas

BreninMark Rowlands has come of age. His hair is dyed, he is not a lonesome writer anymore but a reknown professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, a husband and a father. And instead of a wolf, a Schaeferhund-dog is now his companion on his daily jogging trips.
The wolf made Mark Rowlands famous. „The Philosopher and the Wolf“ oscillates between macho-myths of a man and his beast and academic philosophy, an autobiography and an analysis of ethics, communication and the meaning of life, an instructional textbook and a pet story more touching than Lassie, Flipper and Black Beauty.

„The Philosopher and the Wolf“ describes eleven years Rowlands spent as a philosophy teacher and writer in Alabama, Ireland and France, always accompanid by a wolf he bought in his early twenties. During all these years, men (and women) appear only as marginal characters in Rowlands life, no matter if he’s having years of party in Alabama, a hermit’s life in Ireland or a merry bachelor’s life in southern France.
The solitary way of living, the intense examination of the world, view and values of animals directs Rowlands to ask fundamental questions on what is important, what is good and bad, what is happiness, and finally: What does death mean for men and for animals?

The book is more than just a pet story – although that might be hard to get for readers who never even had a hamster. The death of pets is a strong experience n0ot only because we probably liked them, but because it signifies the end of quite long period in our life that we overlook from end to end. We have been there before our oets, and we are still here, while a whole life has passed. The death of a dog reminds us very clearly that now 10, 12 or fifteen years have definitely passed, are gone, will never come back again, that we will have to change some habits and probably think of something new.
Thoughts on the meaning of death for men and wolves (or dogs) cumuluate in the last chapter of the book, „The Religion of the Wolf“. Men fear death, they Rowlands, because they think about the future. That’s the problem with dying: It’s not that we loose what we are or have, the problem is that death makes us loos our future.
Wolves (or dogs or other animals) don’t care about past or future – they are just know They know neither hope nor fear, they just care about what’s going on right now – which after all, is a very decent way to handle things…

„The Philosopher and the Wolf“ is a very beautiful book combining a nice story with practically explained philosophical topics. The public reception was somehow different: Journalists liked it, the book sold great – but the reviews mostly focused on the macho-aspect of living a merry bachelor’s life with a wolf – or on the unpleasant part of having to sort out fights with other dogs, dealing with the lust for destruction of young wolves (dogs) and having to take care of a sick and dying wolf (dog).
That’s not the story – we should know this if we ever had a hamster….
The view and insight Rowlands describes, is an extended, enhanced view that acknowledges the presence and specific intelligence of other beasts than men.
This is a perspective we are not used to; in our daily world, the idea that the rest of the world – environment, animals, nature – are not there for us, at our disposal, but that it is with us – or actually the other way: We are allowed to be with them.

I bet it’s not pure chance that Rowlands is not only the guy with the big dogs, but also one of the most prominent philosophers in the field of animal rights – and a representative of the philosophy of the external mind. Wikipedia says he is „one of the architects of a view known variously as the extended mind, vehicle externalism, locational externalism, active externalism, architecturalism and environmentalism.“
„The idea, very roughly, is that at least some mental processes extend into the subject’s environment in that they are composed, partly (and, on most versions, contingently), of manipulative, exploitative, and transformative operations performed by that subject on suitable environmental structures“, explains Rowlands. „I think I’m also known for holding a rather strange view of the nature of consciousness.“



Michael Hafner talked to Mark Rowlands about morality, mortality, loneliness as a merry bachelor’s life and the questions wether fleas have feelings. and other moral obligations towards animals

themashazine: After reading „The Philosopher and the Wolf“ I head tears in my eyes and started to louse my dog, because I just wanted to do her something good. – Actually, I thought I would not like the book after I read some (mainly german) reviews that gave me the impression of you as someone exploiting something quite ordinary (living with an animal) as something special and exciting (the big, strong, mean, stinking, aggressive and then even ill animal). – How did you like the reception of your book?

Mark Rowlands: I’m not familiar with the German reviews, as I don’t speak German. I suppose I am aware of most of the English language reviews (my publishers send them to me), and, of course, I’m delighted – since the vast majority of them have been very positive. I try – I really try – not to take any notice of reviews: but it’s much easier to do that when they are so nice!

themashazine:what can people who never lived with an animal take from your book?

Mark Rowlands: The book is an extended examination of what it means to be human. In particular, I examine three features that are thought to separate us from other creatures: intelligence, morality, and our understanding of our own mortality. So, the book would be, I hope, of interest to anyone who has thought about this issue – whether or not they live with animals.

We are more intelligent than other animals (at least in the way we measure this). But this comes from our simian forebears travelling a path that wolves and other social creatures did not. Our intelligence is grounded in more primitive abilities to manipulate and deceive our peers. The result was an arms race, where abilities to resist manipulation and deception just about kept their noses in front of manipulation and deception. The intelligence we have today is a result of this race: manipulation and deception are core components of human intelligence.

This theme was reiterated in my discussion of morality. We are also distinguished from other creatures, so we think, by our moral sense. We understand right and wrong: they do not. I examined the extent to which power and deception lie at the core of our sense of right and wrong. So, for example, take a social contract model. The basic idea is: you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. Or, at the very least, you refrain from sticking a knife in my back, and I’ll similarly refrain. You accept certain limitations on your freedom if others will accept the same limitations. Morality emerges from these sorts of primitive (and hypothetical) agreements (or contracts). However, as many have pointed out, it makes sense to contract only with people who are capable of helping you or hurting you. Therefore, if this is the basis of morality, those who can do neither fall outside the scope of morality. That is: we have no moral obligations to the powerless. Power is deeply embedded in the way we think about morality.

The same is true, I argued, of deception. In the contract, image is everything. It doesn’t really matter whether you are helping someone else, as long as they think you are. If you can deceive, you garner all the benefits of the contract whilst accruing none of the costs. The contract, by its nature, rewards deception. So, while the contract is supposed to be about morality, if you dig a little deeper, you find power and deception.

Our sense of our mortality is perhaps the most decisive difference between us and other creatures. I think other creatures understand death only in part. They cannot understand the ‘and that’s all she wrote’ aspect of death. That the one who dies will return nevermore. Because we can realize this, in a way that no other creature truly can, we have a choice to make – one so fundamental that it effectively defines the kind of life we are going to live. We can tell ourselves stories to the effect that death is not really the end. The basis of the stories is hope; hope that becomes the primary virtue of some religions and re-baptized faith. Hope, I said, is the used car salesman of human existence: so friendly, so plausible, but you can’t rely on him.

Why did I say this? Hope takes away something from us – it takes away the possibility of our lives possessing a certain kind of value. There are certain moments, I argued, when we are at our best; and it is here that the real value of life is to be found. This value is not to be found in goals toward which we strive, our ambitions, achieved or not. Our lives resist judicial summary. Rather it is to be found at certain moments, scattered around our lives. This talk of moments confused a lot of people, and led them to the conclusion that I was saying we should live in the moment. In fact, I said the opposite: living in the moment is not the life characteristic of a human – and there is no point trying to be what we are not. So, let’s replace the word ‘moments’ with ‘times’. There are certain times in our lives when we are at our best. This is when we understand the game is up. These are the times when hope has deserted us, and we have nothing left but our defiance and our scorn. In the end it is this defiance that gives our lives value: it is only our defiance that redeems us.

themashazine: What do you tell people who say they feel the same you felt about Brenin (the Wolf) about their Chihuahua?

Mark Rowlands: Good question. I attach no direct significance at all to the fact that Brenin was a wolf (or maybe wolf-dog mix). For the purposes of the book, it really did not matter. Could someone feel the same about their Chihuahua? Yes, they certainly could.

themashazine: You describe yourself as a misanthrope – what made you change your mind? did you change your mind or did you find a way to live with it? has something changed since your obvious misanthrope-times?

Mark Rowlands: Looking back, I tend to think that I just wanted a break from human beings for a while. Does that make me a misanthrope? Maybe it does.

themashazine: Your life in Ireland and France does not sound uninteresting for a man; one could get used to it as a merry bachelor´s life – but who did clean your house and do your laundry at that time?

Mark Rowlands: I cleaned my house and did my laundry. The laundry was fine, but the house was rarely clean – although, in my defense, I did have three large, and often muddy, canines sharing a small cottage.

themashazine: I like your arguments about morality and the attitude towards the weak. But are not also intentionality and the perceived distribution of power important issues? Are my horses – who are way stronger than me – mean when they step on my toes? Are they immoral when they risk my health by jumping around and hustling me, when they are scared of green Martians they see in the trees?

Mark Rowlands: Do your horses often see green Martians? If so, what sort of grass is growing in their field?

More generally, animals are not moral agents in this sense: they cannot be morally censured for what they do. They have no choice in the matter, and they cannot subject their actions to critical scrutiny and moral evaluation. That is: they cannot ask themselves questions like: is what I am doing the morally right thing to do in these circumstances?
So, animals are what is known as moral patients as opposed to moral agents. This means, very roughly, that they have rights but not responsibilities. The same, of course, is true of many humans – young children being an obvious example.

Some people claim – usually because they haven’t thought about what they are saying – that you cannot have rights without responsibilities. If they really mean this, then they are committed to denying that young children, and certain other categories of humans, have rights – not an option I would endorse.

themashazine: I guess that my dog is happiest, when she is eating, sleeping in the sun or fighting (which I can’t let her do, because she is too talented and efficient). She can enjoy that until she does something else, I can enjoy – whatever I enjoy – only inbetween (before I have to leave, after I come home from work, because I can take a few minutes now, because we have not sat together or been for a walk or a while now),
Is that part of the difference between wolves and apes you described? And did you find a way to deal with it – or could you just diagnose the difference?

Mark Rowlands: I think it’s true that one of the reasons we humans are such a dissatisfied species is because we are so spread out in time that we find it very difficult to enjoy the moment. As I said: Living in the moment is not the life characteristic of a human – and there is no point trying to be what we are not.

themashazine: Finally, to get back to the fleas: I’m killing them intentionally and they are way smaller and weaker than my dog or me. – Are we immoral?

Mark Rowlands: Two responses:

First, you have a duty of care to your dog that you don’t have to her fleas. You took on that duty when you brought her into your life.

Second, fleas are, as far as know, non-sentient. We might be wrong about this, but given everything we know about the neural basis of consciousness, it’s a pretty good bet. Therefore, a good case can be made for thinking that fleas fall outside the scope of morality. We have no moral obligations to fleas.

Experts on Trust – Klaus-M.Schremser

TrustKlaus-M. Schremser is the Chief Marketing Officer of Gentics, a Software Company producing Enterprise Solutions for Content Management and Portals.
He is an expert in 2.0 Marketing and our author of this weeks expert statement on trust in online media.

Three questions on Trust

Whom do we trust online?

  • Huge institutions which have a certain publicity, ie. Online Banking – Erste Bank, Telekom Austria, etc.
  • Institutions which are mentioned by people we trust (i.e., …)
  • Institutions or services which are mentioned more than once in news, blogs, offline media and used by hundred thousand ++ users (i.e. twitter, facebook, …)
  • People we know in reality and have already met in person (sometimes)
  • People who have a certain reputation (Andrew McAfee, …)
  • People who help us online without demanding money (sometimes)
  • Sometimes you have to trust other institutions, people, services without other choices

What is our trust built on?

  • communication and interaction with others
  • If other people show trust, then you follow If the risk is lower than the consequences.
  • Reputation, positive experiences of myself or others
  • If you know somebody well.
  • laws (government), rules, contracts, regulations, possible actions in case of mistrust
  • security methods (SSL)
  • insurances (Visa-insurance in case of misuse of your creditcard in the web)
  • regular maintance (your car! – same for software)
  • certifications, education of others (pilot of your holiday-airplane)

What difference does trust make?

  • we buy or we do not buy 🙂
  • business or not business (I won’t register for a service without trust)
  • we offer information or not
  • more followers on facebook, twitter, blogs, etc.
  • you dare to drive on streets 🙂
  • online-commerce (e-shops)
  • we shift our daily work in the web (online banking or not)
  • to use google mail or not – we have to cope with trust
  • I use google calendar for business usage (this is trust!)
  • all services in the cloud are based on trust (use dropbox a genius online storage system – but would you save your creditcard-information there?)

Trust Exchange Research

Read all about the research on trust in online media on our background pages.
Don’t miss anything by following the Tag „trustex“ on

Experts on Trust – Digest of Trust and Censorhip in Online Media #3

trustThis week’s issue of themashazine’s Trust Digest covers book censorship, traditional media and the trust problems they face according to the Harvard Nieman report, growing online censorship in southeast asia and really stupid doctors who publish private patients data on facebook.

Doctors share private patient information on Facebook

A report of the American Medial Association shows frequent cases of Docors and Doctor Trainees sharing private and confidential patient information online. They publicly discuss details, ten percent of these dicussions were detailed enough so that patients could be identified (or even full names were used).

Books and censorship

The American Library Assoication published the „Manifesto of Banned Books“ on book-censorship in the US. The Wall Street Journal reports on the upcoming „Manifesto of Banned Books Week“
Books, privacy and censorship are also a hot issue in the still ongoing rants on Google Books. It’s funny how Businessweek writes on „the Europeans“ and the „european“ position.

Online Censorship in Southeast Asia

Online censorship is not a chineses problem only. Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are not that efficient and don’t have such big budgets to spend on censorhip, but they are the leaders in growing cencorship initiatives in Southeast Asia, reports Wallstreet Journal. Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines (with still record breaking mobile usage rates) on the contrary behave more and more liberal.

Traditional Media keep loosing on Trust

Techdirt quotes Nieman Reports: The truth is the Internet didn’t steal the audience. We lost it. Today fewer people are systematically reading our papers and tuning into our news programs for a simple reason–many people don’t feel we serve them anymore. We are, literally, out of touch.Today, people expect to share information, not be fed it. “
Teleread covers the same discussion: „oday, people expect to share information, not be fed it. They expect to be listened to when they have knowledge and raise questions. They want news that connects with their lives and interests. They want control over their information. And they want connection—they give their trust to those they engage with—people who talk with them, listen and maintain a relationship.“
Gnovisjournal covers a recent survey by Pew Research Center for the People and Press on the Anti Trust Factors in Traditional Media.
And here is the original Nieman Report: Why the News Media Became Irrelevant — And How Social Media Can Help

Marketing trust

Another interesting article on marketing trust: „“Companies as diverse as McDonald’s, Ford, and American Express are revamping their marketing to win back that most valuable of corporate assets” The asset they are referring to is consumer trust.“

Do you trust your eyeballs?

Makezine presents wearable eyeballs as an augmented reality gadget. They are looking for monsters in your environment only they can see…

Trust Exchange Research

Read all about the research on trust in online media on our background pages.
Don’t miss anything by following the Tag „trustex“ on

Experts on Trust – Ritchie Pettauer

Ritchie Pettauer is datadirt, Pettauer Net Consulting and He is one of the most successful german speaking bloggers, lectures on online media at the University of Vienna, Austria, and trains and consults companies in e-business and and online affairs. We’re proud and happy to have him with us this week.

Three questions on trust

Whom do you trust online?

Many internet users confuse trust with expectation. Expectation might as well arise as the result of a spontaneous, single act: a promising strategy paper, a great advertising idea… And the question about expectations is always the same: are they met? My thesis, which is solely derived from my personal experience, is this: if expectations are met, the foundation for developing trust is laid. If expectations are met repeatedly over a certain period, trust evolves and forms as the result of an ongoing process.

This my sound quite theoretical, but my line of thought is that „expectations“ may differ greatly between people as may the mentioned period of time. Let me break down the question on a more personal level: I am „heavy internet user“ since for more than 12 years and I’ve started online publishing 10 years ago. During this time I have made a lot of mistakes, have often been listening to the wrong people, but occasionally I met the right ones – the experts I could learn a lot from. I could never tell instantly (and in most cases, I still can’t). It was the repeated prove that convinced me that what those persons had to say was extremely valuable to me. Bottom line: I keep listening.

Before I finish my answer, let’s question trust from different angle: What does „trust“ mean in a technical way? The idea of trust is widely implemented into the structure of the net. Google serves as the primary net gate for most users, and their smart engineers constantly have to solve one problem: which URLs can we trust? Google manifested this trust problem via the Page Rank number. The idea is that the more websites link a resource, the more important it is. The strategy is trying to find a measurable factorexpressible via an algorithm – this idea made big G the most successful online company ever. Don’t misunderstand me: I fully believe that „trust“ can only evolve in personal relationships, but it’s the idea of trust which helped Google beat the competition.

What is your trust build on?

I guess my earlier answer pretty much answers this question: I base my trust on repeated experiences, on expectations which have been met many times.

What difference does trust make?

Let me paraphrase J. R. R. Tolkien here: „One difference to rule them all!“ But seriously: trust is *the* most important factor in decision-making. People make decisions based on information, they form their opinion based on a number of sources. But not all pieces of information are equal: it’s a vital part of the human condition that we value various opinions based on trust.

I’ll use an example from my daily work to illustrate my point: In my daily work as an online consultant I use a lot of software. To me, a great piece of software primarily does one thing: it helps me save time. It speeds up tedious tasks and helps me get my work done faster. I have discovered a lot of useful programs on the internet, mostly via blog posts – niche programs like the kind SEOs use to build links. If a blogger who I trust recommends a new piece of software, I’m much more inclined to trying (and buying) it than if I read a positive review by some person I don’t know. Of course, this is the basic principle of special interest magazines (which have been around long before the internet) – but while traditional media struggle to set up trust between an editorial department and their readership, the internet (and social media) fosters trust relationships on a much more personal level.

Trust Exchange Research

Read all about the research on trust in online media on our background pages.
Don’t miss anything by following the Tag „trustex“ on

Micropublishing Basics

Microblogging, Microfinancing – does everything have to be small and does it have to move fast? Because there is no time anymore for „real“ business?
Micropublishing is sometimes used as a synonym for microblogging. I look at it differently. Blogging is Blogging – that’s a way to quickly sketch some thought, spread information, start a discussion.
Publishing is on the one hand more onedirectional (to me), on the other hand, I think of it as a more structured and targeted process: Publishing is not dealing with ideas and sketches, it’s not using media as tools, publishing to me means to create products that cover a full process, an idea and it’s conclusions from beginning to end.

That’s why I think of books, when I think of publishing.

Wie die TiereWhen I think of micropublishing, I think of books from the fringes (and for the fringes).
I don’t think that everything get’s better when it is commercialised and turned capable of winning a majority.
Some contents don’t need to be made to fit a broader public, they don’t improve if they are forced to be generally understandable and easier to sell – sometimes that just makes them loose meaning.
Producing meaningful contents anyway (and ignoring the rules of pr and marketing) is a tightrope walk between stupid hubris, anchorless blather and hard work.
There are established media types, rules of the business, and tons of successstories.
Being so versatile that you can’t be grasped, and more present and talkative than be hardly listening audience can take – the idea of micropublishing is full of contradictions.
Why, after all, would you publish if you don’t want to adress or fit to a public?

Micropublishing, in another perspective, is also looked at as a highly commercial, marketing-optimised feature. Wikipedia describes it as: „a microtrend that would not play much of a role in the publishing world. The internet has changed this by providing authors and micropublishers with an affordable medium through which to publish and distribute their works“ and refers to Chris Andersons Long Tail.

That’s one legitimate way.
I’m thinking of another approach.

Why publishing, and why micropublishing


  • Some cOntents need shape. Rules of traditional media force to a minimum of consistency.
  • Paper has some advantages – it can be touched, it can be written on, it’s not so sensitive to dust, sand, being dropped. But it should be used only on demand.
  • Books are simply beautiful.
  • Publishing means more than putting a book on the table. If the world and the media we need are not here yet, we need to create them.
  • We don’t fill niches. We extend and stretch discussions and markets. Mobility on the edges keeps innovation goin on.
  • If it’s not a business – turn it into one, if you want. But business is not always the biggest fun…
  • You don’t need to care about or dissociate yourselves from mainstream discussions. Ignoring is healthy; simply doing someting else even more.
  • We don’t do this for fun. Respect, Satisfaction, the feeling to control things is one part; commercial success – as a living and as true means of subversion – is another part. But if it’s not about money, it could be about life.
  • Micropublishing creates products and business models that can deal with Google Books, copyright, online distribution and collaboration and creative commons.Publishing is not writing; it’s not about talking only, but about doing business. That’s why I started kbex micropublishing, well, it’s still about to be started…

Experts on Trust – Jane McConnell

TrustJane McConnell contributes to the Trust Exchange Research by sharing her thoughts on our three starting questions. Jane runs NetJMC, a strategy consultancy focused on intranets. NetJMC publishes the annual Global Intranet Trends Report, the next edition will be available in the second part of October. Have a quick glance at the first results here.

Three questions on Trust

  • Who do you trust online?
  • People I know or who come to me from other people I know. I also look at their online presence (web, blog, whatever) and make a judgement call based on that if I don’t know the person. When it gets right down to it, there are not tons of people I trust online.
    Regarding web sites, that’s even more limited.
    For transactional sites, it depends on the brand and the ease of use of the site. I’m influenced here by BJ Fogg’s work. When people I don’t know contact me, (which happens quite a lot) I tend to place more trust in those who are humble in their approach rather than those who are overly confident.

  • What is your trust built on?
  • 1. Transparency- I want to know the person’s real name, and a photo makes a big difference.
    2. Win-win relations – I trust people who give to others. People who are generous with their time and their contacts. However, I mistrust people who seem to do nothing but communicate on line because it makes me wonder what they are doing with their lives.
    When someone asks me for something, and I have a doubt, I usually give a little, and wait to see what the person does in exchange. If the relation goes well, it builds up gradually as each gives more to the other. An example of this is sharing contact names.
    3. History with the person. E.g. did they answer my email last time?
    4. Flexibility about language: the virtual context is very different from the physical world in that the clues we use to trust or not are different. I’ve done a lot of thinking about virtual teams and building trust.
    It’s important to realize that what might come across as brusqueness or rudeness in English might simply come from lack of mastery of the English language in writing, since virtual communication depends very much on the written word. Native-speakers have to tone down, simplify their language, in order to be easily understood and hopefully trusted by others.

  • 3. What difference does trust make?
  • All the difference in the world! Nothing to say here that I would not say for „real life“. You can work with people you trust, enjoy being with them, help them out, and count on them when you need help.

    Trust Exchange Research

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