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!