This is a paid review (see below). If you've been torpedoed while looking for a job when a prospective boss googled you and found an embarrassing MySpace or Facebook page, then you'd understand the importance of online reputation. (In this article in the New York Times, a recruiter told how an applicant, with a chemical engineering degree no less, was rejected because his remark "I like to blow things up" showed up on Google!)
Many websites use online reputation as a measure of trustworthiness - think eBay's feedback ratings or Slashdot's [wiki] karma. Taken to extreme, reputation can act like a currency (like Cory Doctorow's "whuffie [wiki]," which has replaced money, in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom).
To help you manage your online reputation, enter a new service called Repvine. The website's premise is simple: it allows users to collect (hopefully positive) references by controlling from whom they solicit those references. In other words, it's "a controlled environment - not a 'hot or not' site," as Hagai Yardeny, Repvine's creator, said.
Although you get to choose who to ask for references, you don't get to edit what they say. Your community of reviewers can also vote for or against a specific reference, so if someone left you a negative review and other people feel that it was wrong, then they could vote it down in importance.
Prospective employers (or love interests, if online dating is what's in your mind), can then check you out on Repvine. Presumably, search engines will also pick up this info (as they tend to do) and display them when people search for you online.
Repvine asked me to review their service, through the ReviewMe process I wrote about before, and I obliged (and signed up).
The website was easy to use and the sign up process quite straightforward. The process went like this:
1. I selected a username and password, entered my name, personal bio and innocuous data like zip code and year of birth (not displayed publically on the website). The website then sent out a confirmation email to activate the account.
2. Decided a challenge phrase (I chose "Alex's blog is neat" although I assume most people will choose something like they are trustworthy or hardworking or handsome or whatever).
3. Invited people to review me (and vote whether they agree with your challenge phrase). I invited Miss C, because I'm positive she'll say nice things (and she did).
4. Got a button I can use on emails and personal website to link to your Repvine account. Like this:
To popularize the service, in addition to getting reviews like this, Repvine also created some ads (three funny yet a bit risque, actually: for the job seeker, the online dater, and the freelancer), available on YouTube.
You may ask: Will the presence of positive recommendations offset a negative one? (say as a result of someone engaged in a sybil attack against you) How will Repvine guard against phony reviews from sockpuppets [wiki]? In short, the big question is: will Repvine work?
The larger the size of the community, the more valuable it becomes and as a startup, Repvine has a tough hill to climb to make itself known (to prospective employers, and also to search engines). The challenge for Repvine is to increase its own reputation as a reliable source of ... well, reputations. In the meantime, this free service is another useful online tool for job seekers.
Note: This is a paid review (through ReviewMe). Although I am compensated for this post, the words and opinion are all mine. Per ReviewMe's policy, there was no editorial pressure to write only positive reviews.