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2004 (26) Heft 1

Trust and Community on the Internet. Opportunities and Restrictions for Online Cooperation


Guest-Editors: Bernd Lahno / Uwe Matzat

Abstracts | Inhalt | Editorial

1. Concepts and Backgrounds

Henk de Vos
Community and Human Social Nature in Contemporary Society

Abstract: Although community is a core sociological concept, its meaning is often left vague. In this article it is pointed out that it is a social form that has deep connections with human social nature. Human social life and human social history can be seen as unflagging struggles between two contradictory behavioral modes: reciprocity and status competition. Relative to hunter-gatherer societies, present society is a social environment that strongly seduces to engage in status competition. But at the same time evidence increases that communal living is strongly associated with well being and health. A large part of human behavior and of societal processes are individual and collective expressions of on the one hand succumbing to the seductions of status competition and one the other hand attempts to build and maintain community. In this article some contemporary examples of community maintaining, enrichment and building are discussed. The article concludes with a specification of structural conditions for community living and a short overview of ways in which the Internet affects these conditions.

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Bernd Lahno
Three Aspects of Interpersonal Trust

Abstract: Trust is generally held to have three different dimensions or aspects: a behavioral aspect, a cognitive aspect, and an affective aspect. While there is hardly any disagreement about trusting behavior, there is some disagreement as to which of the two other aspects is more fundamental. After presenting some of the main ideas concerning the concept of trust as used in the analysis of social cooperation. I will argue that affective aspects of trust must be included in any adequate account of the role of trust in social dilemma situations involving multiple equilibria. Cooperation in such situations requires coordination even though information on what another player might do is not available. A trusting person can handle such problems of cooperation by framing the situation in a way that goes beyond cognitive trust and solves what I shall call the problem of normative consent. I will conclude with some remarks about the design of institutions that foster trustful cooperation, especially in the context of the Internet.

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Hans-Werner Bierhoff / Bernd Vornefeld
The Social Psychology of Trust with Applications in the Internet

Abstract: Three levels of trust as a social psychological construct are delineated: trust in a specific person (relational trust), trust in people in general (generalised trust) and trust in abstract systems. Whereas much research is available on relational trust and generalized trust, much less is known about trust in systems. From theory and research several assumptions are derived which are related to the development of trust in the Internet. For example, the reliability of information technology is assumed to be directly related to the development of trust in the Internet. In addition, it is assumed that in situations in which it is hard to verify the justification for trust, people construct subjective beliefs which represent a transformation of relational trust into system trust. Applications of these assumptions for strengthening the trustworthiness of the Internet are discussed.

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Uwe Matzat
Cooperation and Community on the Internet: Past Issues and Present Perspectives for Theoretical-Empirical Internet Research

Abstract: This paper first summarizes two central debates in the field of social scientific Internet research, namely the debate about the so-called 'social impact of Internet use' and the debate about the existence of community on the Internet. Early research discussed whether building up a community on the Internet was possible and what the effects of the use of the Internet were for its user. Recent research on the social consequences of Internet use suggests that 'the' Internet should no longer be regarded as a constant that has uniform effects for its users. Rather, the consequences of its use depend on a number of contextual conditions. The paper presents some theories that explain which conditions and features of online groups facilitate the finding of solutions to bilateral or group-level problems of cooperation.

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2. The Internet as an Environment for Trust

Victoria McGeer
Developing Trust on the Internet

Abstract: Does the Internet provide an environment in which rational individuals can initiate and maintain relationships of interpersonal trust? This paper argues that it does. It begins by examining distinctive challenges facing would-be trusters on the net, concluding that, however distinctive, such challenges are not unique to the Internet, so cannot be cited as grounds for disparaging the rationality of Internet trust. Nevertheless, these challenges point up the importance of developing mature capacities for trust, since immature trusters are particularly vulnerable to the liabilities of Internet trust. This suggests that Internet trust can only be rational for those who have developed mature capacities for trust. But that suggestion ignores how trust on the Internet may also facilitate the development of such capacities.

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Philip Pettit
Trust, Reliance and the Internet

Abstract: rusting someone in an intuitive, rich sense of the term involves not just relying on that person, but manifesting reliance on them in the expectation that this manifestation of reliance will increase their reason and motive to prove reliable. Can trust between people be formed on the basis of Internet contact alone? Forming the required expectation in regard to another person, and so trusting them on some matter, may be due to believing that they are trustworthy; to believing that they seek esteem and will be rationally responsive to the good opinion communicated or promised by an act of trust; or to both factors at once. Neither mechanism can rationally command confidence, however, in the case where people are related only via the Internet. On the Internet everyone wears the ring of Gyges; everyone is invisible, in their personal identity, to others.

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Russell Hardin
Internet Capital

Abstract: The Internet is a huge form of social capital that is not reducible in its characteristics to other forms of social capital, such as ordinary networks of people who more or less know each other. It enables us to do many things with radically greater efficiency than we could without it. It can do some things better but other things much less well than traditional devices can. At both extremes, the differences are so great as to be not merely quantitative but also qualitative. The things it can do better include things that can readily be checked and verified. The things that it often cannot do include securing commitments for action. A brief history of the forms of social cooperation suggests that relationships on the Internet are typically too thin to back trust and cooperation among those who do not have fairly rich relationships off-line.

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Geoffrey Brennan / Philip Pettit
Esteem, Identifiability and the Internet

Abstract: The desire for esteem, and the associated desire for good reputation, serve an important role in ordinary social life in disciplining interactions and supporting the operation of social norms. The fact that many Internet relations are conducted under separate dedicated e-identities may encourage the view that Internet relations are not susceptible to these esteem-related incentives. We argue that this view is mistaken. Certainly, pseudonyms allow individuals to moderate the effects of disesteem---either by changing the pseudonym to avoid the negative reputation, or by partitioning various audiences according to different audience values. However, there is every reason to believe that a good e-reputation is an object of desire for real agents. Further, although integrating one's reputation under a single identity has some esteem-enhancing features, those features are not necessarily decisive. We explore in the paper what some of the countervailing considerations might be, by appeal to various analogies with the Internet case.

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3. Reputation and Online Auctions

Chris Snijders / Richard Zijdeman
Reputation and Internet Auctions: eBay and Beyond

Abstract: Each day, a countless number of items is sold through online auction sites such as eBay and Ricardo. Though abuse is being reported more and more, transactions seem to be relatively hassle free. A possible explanation for this phenomenon is that the sites' reputation mechanisms prevent opportunistic behavior. To analyze this issue, we first summarize and extend the mechanisms that affect the probability of sale of an item and its price. We then try to replicate the results as found in four recent papers on online auctions. Our analyses reveal that (1) it makes sense to differentiate between 'power sellers' and the less regular users, (2) there are variables that have an effect on sales that are often not controlled for, (3) one should carefully consider how reputation is operationalized, (4) neglecting heteroscedasticity in the data can have serious consequences, and (5) there is some support indicating that effects differ across auction sites.

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Gary E. Bolton / Elena Katok / Axel Ockenfels
Trust among Internet Traders: A Behavioral Economics Approach

Abstract: Standard economic theory does not capture trust among anonymous Internet traders. But when traders are allowed to have social preferences, uncertainty about a seller's morals opens the door for trust, reward, exploitation and reputation building. We report experiments suggesting that sellers' intrinsic motivations to be trustworthy are not sufficient to sustain trade when not complemented by a feedback system. We demonstrate that it is the interaction of social preferences and cleverly designed reputation mechanisms that solves to a large extent the trust problem on Internet market platforms. However, economic theory and social preference models tend to underestimate the difficulties of promoting trust in anonymous online trading communities.

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Werner Güth / Hartmut Kliemt
The Evolution of Trust(worthiness)in the Net

Abstract: The main results of our indirect evolutionary approach to trust in large interactions suggest that trustworthiness must be detectable if good conduct in trust-relationships is to survive. According to theoretical reasoning there is a niche then for an organization offering a (possibly) costly service of keeping track of the conduct of participants on the net. We compare traits of an organizational design as suggested by economic reasoning with those that actually emerged and ask whether institutions like eBay will increasingly have to ‘economize on virtue' although so far they could rely on its spontaneous provision.

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4. Groups and Networks

Coye Cheshire / Karen S. Cook
The Emergence of Trust Networks under Uncertainty - Implications for Internet

Abstract: Computer-mediated interaction on the Internet provides new opportunities to examine the links between reputation, risk, and the development of trust between individuals who engage in various types of exchange. In this article, we comment on the application of experimental sociological research to different types of computer-mediated social interactions, with particular attention to the emergence of what we call ‘trust networks' (networks of those one views as trustworthy). Drawing on the existing categorization systems that have been used in experimental social psychology, we relate the various forms of computer-mediated exchange to selected findings from experimental research. We develop a simple typology based on the intersection of random versus fixed-partner social dilemma games, and repeated versus one-shot interaction situations. By crossing these two types of social dilemma games and two types of interaction situations, we show that many forms of Internet exchange can be categorized effectively into four mutually exclusive categories. The resulting classification system helps to integrate the existing research on trust in experimental social psychology with the emerging field of computer-mediated exchange.

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Anabel Quan-Haase / Barry Wellman
Local Virtuality in a High-Tech Networked Organization

Abstract: What are networked organizations? The focus of discussions of the networked organization has been on the boundary-spanning nature of these new organizational structures. Yet, the role of the group in these networked organizations has remained unclear. Furthermore, little is known about how computer-mediated communication is used to bridge group and organizational boundaries. In particular, the role of new media in the context of existing communication patterns has received little attention. We examine how employees at a high-tech company, referred to as KME, communicate with members of the work group, other colleagues in the organization, and colleagues outside the organization to better understand their boundary-spanning communications.

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Andreas Flache
How May Virtual Communication Shape Cooperation in a Work Team? A Formal Model Based on Social Exchange Theory

Abstract: This paper addresses theoretically the question how virtual communication may affect cooperation in work teams. The degree of team virtualization, i.e. the extent to which interaction between team members occurs online, is related to parameters of the exchange. First, it is assumed that in online interaction task uncertainties are higher than in face-to-face contacts. Second, the gratifying value of peer rewards is assumed to be lower in online contacts. Thirdly, it is assumed that teams are different in the extent to which members depend on their peers for positive affections, operationalized by the extent to which team members are interested in social relationships for their own sake, independently from their work interactions. Simulation results suggest both positive and negative effects of team virtualization on work-cooperation.

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Margit Osterloh / Sandra Rota
Trust and Community in Open Source Software Production

Abstract: Open source software production is a successful new innovation model which disproves that only private ownership of intellectual property rights fosters innovations. It is analyzed here under which conditions the open source model may be successful in general. We show that a complex interplay of situational, motivational, and institutional factors have to be taken into account to understand how to manage the `tragedy of the commons' as well as the `tragedy of the anticommons'. It is argued that the success of this new innovation model is greatly facilitated by a well balanced portfolio of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, low costs for contributors and governance mechanisms that do not crowd out intrinsic motivation.

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5. Law and the Internet

Eric Hilgendorf
Crime, Law and the Internet

Abstract: After some introductory remarks on the German legal system and German legal politics, the main forms of datanet crime on the Internet are sketched. After that, one of the most important Internet-cases of the last decade, the CompuServe case, is discussed in some detail. One of the main problems of datanet crime is its global reach. The world-spanning nature of the cyberspace significantly enlarges the ability of offenders to commit crimes that will affect people in a variety of other countries. On the other hand, the jurisdiction of national criminal law cannot be expanded at will by any single nation. A transnational criminal law for the Internet is possible but should be restricted to the defence of universally (or nearly universally) accepted interests and values. In effect, it seems that the problems of computer-related crime on the Internet cannot be solved by criminal law alone.

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Geoffrey Brennan / Rodgers & Hammerstein
Internet Hymn

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