Trust and certificates

By July 12, 2006Comment

The promised post on trust awaits your perusal below.

In what is starting to be a tradition in this blog lets start by postulating what trust might be (and I’m talking in the very specific context of web trust systems – there is a very interesting wider debate on trust in society which I’ve blogged about before).

Forms of trust on the web:

  1. Certificates that say you can trust a site to be something – e.g. VeriSign for security against theft of your credit card information
  2. Trust systems that let you trust an individual in a given community – e.g. EBay’s rating system

I’m trying to answer the question of whether there is an infrastructure play in trust on the web.

In the first category VeriSign has built a business based on a single very specific area of trust but I think security of credit card information is probably the only area where trust is missing on such a broad scale. Other areas where certificates are prominent are child safety (ICRA), accessibility (RNIB and others) and more recently readiness for mobile. There will be a lot of certificates required (at least in the first two areas) which tells me there is a volume of business in administering them, although I’m not sure how profitable it would be. There is an element of natural monopoly though, which might be helpful. The million dollar question (and maybe that should be billion) is whether the list of three certificate areas I gave above is (or soon will be) much shorter than it should be. If it is much too short then there ought to be a play in “trust certificate infrastructure”.

In the second category I don’t think there is an infrastructure play – the technology to administer an eBay style trust system will be coded on a site by site basis and it doesn’t strike me that there is much of a software product opportunity here. Instead, everyone is talking about a service play which allows people to export their rating from e.g. eBay and use it elsewhere. This would be great but it strikes me that implementation will be challenging. There is little in it for e.g. eBay to let this happen, indeed people could use their eBay rating on competing auction sites, and there is the hazard that eBay will not be able to police abuses of eBay ratings outside of their site. The play then morphs to some kind of meta rating system which is probably tied in with the holy grail of detailed individual profiles. It’ll come, but it will take a while.

(An aside – I’ve been saying for a long time now that one day we will all have profiles on the web that we love, nurture and cherish like people used to love nurture and cherish their cars. )