As the globe shrinks and our social worlds expand, the need for more transparency in both our on and offline dealings is increasing. In a virtual world, we may need a universal character score.
Before the Young’s Modulus measurement of elasticity, engineers had to guess when a material would fail. A chancy proposition in the context of bridge-building, yet a risk we still take when it comes to assessing the fortitude of a person’s character. When daily business was conducted face-to-face, judging character was a fairly straightforward, albeit highly subjective, process. Now, in a digitally connected world, assessing character can be a stubbornly elusive task.
The potential for a universal character score is huge. A standardized measure could help us decide everything from who to partner with on a business venture to whose yard sale we should attend — and everything in between. Measuring and quantifying personal character has long been considered an impossibility, yet we may find it helps us in both our social and professional digital interactions.
Perhaps one of the first companies to recognize and address this need within its own ecosystem was eBay. Its reputational star-ratings system gave prospective buyers the confidence they needed to make online purchases from strangers.
Some years later, Klout launched a score to measure social influence. While the correlation between influence and character is likely weak, Klout was the first company of note built entirely on establishing a popular “people metric” since FICO introduced its credit score a half-century ago.
Web 2.0 character signals
Today, a number of social signals add weight to the character measurement process. In particular, LinkedIn’s recommendations and endorsements features provide feedback that qualifies individuals’ skills and achievements beyond what the self-completed resume-style profile has to offer.
In poor economic conditions where job demand exceeds supply, recruiters have been receptive to using these new tools to filter through their mass of candidates. And we’re seeing new startups emerge to add more efficiency to the hiring process. One such startup is EmployInsight – a company that measures character strengths for the sake of sourcing high-quality candidates.
As for numeric signals, companies like Lenddo have paved the way for replacing the antiquated FICO score with a new way of measuring credit risk – namely by assessing character. Lenddo’s system requires that you risk your reputation in exchange for loans by involving those in your social circle. Lenddo has already achieved a default rate in the low single digits using this innovative approach.
Measuring character in 2018 and beyond
In another five years, these trends may converge around a full-scale approach to measure character through a host of inputs via multiple channels.
Some variables that could contribute to a global character assessment include:
- Social: Comment board submissions and etiquette, email performance and etiquette, percentage of unfollows or unfriends
- Financial: Craigslist dealings, apartments rentals (both sides of the market), friend-to-friend loans
- Professional: Job references, performance reviews, partnership dealings, employment transitions
- Personal: Yelp-like review sites for people, weighted social connections, overlap of a business’ reviews and a business’ employees
Each facet of a global character measurement represents a business opportunity in and of itself. In seeking ways to capitalize on these opportunities, the question is not “What is the best business model?” but rather “What is the best definition of character?”
We need a market definition of character that is both measurable and that can stand up to inevitable criticism. By 2018, I believe a number of companies will have successfully cleared this final hurdle.
How to prepare for the impact
Admittedly, there is a level of discomfort that comes with thinking about being ‘measured’ in any capacity. There are, however, a number of benefits to a universal character scoring system that I’d argue would result in a net positive effect.
First, a character scoring system would, to an extent, raise the bar of accountability for Internet users. Without infringing on the freedoms of the digitally connected, any attempt to measure personal activity would undoubtedly result in fewer instances of uncouthness – to put it mildly – in very public online communities.
Next, adding a level of transparency and security to personal dealings would undoubtedly reduce fraud, misrepresentation, and deception both online and in our personal lives.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a global character score would enable a majority of the population to leverage the character they’ve worked hard to build and demonstrate in their lives as a true asset. For this group, there are no necessary steps to be taken in preparation for the inevitable shift towards character-based assessment tools. If, on the other hand, all of this scares you, you probably need to stop being an asshole.
Eddie Earnest is CEO and Founder of seedRef, a web platform for simplifying references and measuring character in the process.