The Mashazine is conducting a very interesting research project: Michael Hafner asked various experts about their notion of trust. How is trust generated, who do you trust and what difference does it make? I fully agree with Michael: stocks are dead, it’s all about trust! And I guess the full spectre of opinions will be quite inspiring – here are my answers.

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 advertisting 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 expecations are met, the foundation for the development of trust is laid. If expectations are met repeatedly over a certain period of time, 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 occassionally 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 look at the question from a 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 the majority of users, and their smart engineers constantly have to solve one problem: which URLs can we trust? Google manifested this trust problem via the PageRank number. The idea is that the more websites link a ressource, the more important it must be. The strategy is trying to find a measurable factor that can be expressed 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 previous answer pretty much answers this question: my trust is based on repeaed 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 bits and 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 establish trust between an editorial department and their readership, the internet (and social media) fosters trust relationships on a much more personal level.

What do you think about trust?

Do you agree with my answers? Or do you think trust is completely overrated? Let me know your opinion in the comment section!