Are reputation scores worth using?

Reputation scores are a big deal… or at least can be. If you buy stuff on Amazon or other online marketplaces, you pay attention to reputation scores. Given the choice, you gravitate towards sellers with higher reputation scores. It’s not a complicated formula: the more consistently other people have reported a good experience with that seller, the more you can expect a good experience. Instinctively, you know it’s both subjective and simplistic to reduce “reputation” to a number. But you can deal with this, because you know no other system is going to do any better.

The same kind of thing could operate within platform co-ops. Members could rate each other, and/or clients could rate individual workers.

I think this holds both promise and a pitfall.

The promise is that we all need appraisal now and then. Each of us is our own worst critic, except when we’re not. We all find it tremendously difficult to be objective about our own strengths and weaknesses. Co-workers and especially clients need a second opinion.

The pitfall is, who’s to say the second opinion was any better than the first? Maybe the person rating us doesn’t know what the heck they’re talking about. Maybe they have a personal vendetta for reasons unrelated to work. Maybe they spilled their coffee on their keyboard as they were rating you.

The only way that rating a worker could be at all meaningful is the same way that any other rating system can be at all meaningful: by aggregating many ratings. It’s still a collection of subjective evaluations, but at least the unduly high ones will cancel out the unduly low ones. Is it a perfect system? Nope. If you have a better idea how to encapsulate reputation, please comment below.

It’s worth taking a moment to talk about what a reputation score isn’t. A reputation score isn’t an indication of how much work a worker has done. It’s strictly a measure of how well they did what they took on. From a single number, you can’t tell if they started eight days ago or eight years ago. It’s also not an indicator of how well they play with others. Doing good work and getting along with other co-op members are two separate and unrelated criteria, and one should not be mistaken for the other.

So, are reputation scores worth using? Yes. Until something better comes along.

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