My starting point here is that trust is somehow missing and that there may be some kind of opportunity here to build a big or probably even HUGE company providing that thing which is somehow missing.
It is easy to find examples where trust is present and has been a crititcal success factor – ebay’s rating system, Verisign’s logo, and open source development groups are three from the modern era.
To define it, however, is a little more difficult.
I would postulate that trust is a mechanism that regulates behaviour according to a set of communally understood principles that are probably not written down.
(Thanks to JP for this insight which came when I was reading Four Pillars – Further Musings on Trust).
In the ebay case people know without needing to be told what consititutes acceptable behaviour on that site and do what they know they should to avoid getting a bad rating or to get a good rating and increase their standing in the community. In open source communities people know without needing to be told what constitutes good software and know what they have to do to get their code accepted and to increase their standing in the community. I suspect Verisign’s case is similar – merchants abide by a set of rules that are written and in return are allowed to display Verisign’s trustmark which in turn gives them a standing that lets consumers trust them. I would be interested to know whether Verisign retains the right to unilaterally expel a merchant from its community if its behaviour was unaceptable, but still within the letter of Verisign’s T’s and C’s.
So the important notions here are “community”, “standing” and “communication”.
Which leads to the conclusion that the opportunity might lie in providing mechanisms that allow communities to bestow status on members who deserve it and communicate that status to other members.
Come to think of it Google’s link algorithm is an example of this in operation on the whole web.
There will be more on this, I hope.