So there's been a lot of talk of bots, plagiarism, catfishing and deception on Steemit and a lot of it is probably to be expected. I'm actually surprised that there hasn't been more of it, but thanks to bots like Cheetah and enforcers in the community there has been far less abuse. In the long run the strength of the ecosystem depends on original content so reputation and trust are major keys to our success. There are several ways to minimize gaming to improve the quality of content and increase the value of the ecosystem. The first set of defensive measures are algorithmic. The second set depends on the community to get involved to promote a culture of integrity. I'm confident the Steemit team will find a great solution since the team is already focused on reputation, identity and stake. Here are a few ideas regarding reputation systems:
1. Web of Trust
Phil Zimmerman, creator of the most widely used email encryption software called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), introduced the concept of Web of Trust in 1992 as a decentralized implementation of Public Key Cryptography infrastructure (PKI). In the OpenPGP Web of Trust model, you meet people in person to verify their public keys. The ID verification process is called 'key validation'. Secondly for each person you validate in person, you can assign the person a 'key trust' rating score between 1-5 that represents how much you trust the person to validate other people's keys. In general if you marginally trust someone that you have validated you can give the person a trust rating of 3. When any person that you marginally trust performs a validation on another person, two more people whom you marginally trust must also validate that other person before you fully trust that other person's identity.
Similarly on Steemit a user can vouch for new users by posting a comment, especially in the #introducemyself category. Users can validate someone merely by commenting on another person's post. Having local community members verify new members is a great way to expand trust circles.
2. Value-Based Reputation
Instead of implementing a user-assigned trust rating system as in Web of Trust model, Steemit already has a value-based reputation system built-in. Those that have rewarded in the past have earned a reputation and are far more likely to be trusted than those that have not earned anything. Bots mainly earn from curation rewards, so author rewards should be the main factor for reputation and identity. We can use some combination of stake and accumulated author rewards to rank trust.
3. Google, Eigenvectors & Blockchain Reputation
Google's page ranking system uses eigenvector math to rank pages on the Internet. It's been called the multi-billion dollar algorithm and is the mathematical foundation behind Google's success. Google uses backlinks and a weighting algorithm to determine the importance of each webpage on the Internet. I have a basic understanding of eigenvectors, but someone like @complexring can probably do an in-depth explanation of eigenvectors and matrix alegbra. For those that work on SEO, all the techniques to increase backlinks from trusted websites for specific keywords revolves around trying to game the eigenvector ranking system. More recently the NEM ecosystem has used the same concepts to create its consensus protocol. Here is the NEM white paper. NEM uses a variation of Eigentrust++ that is written about here.
Using a combination of these concepts above should result in a very robust design for a reputation system. In addition to algorithms, the community can also help instill a culture of high integrity to further minimize gaming. In addition to vouching for other community members with a comment, here are a couple ways the community can help:
4. Spreading Awareness of Blockchain History
"It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it" - Benjamin Franklin
Steem posts & comments are permanently stored in history as long as the Steem blockchain exists. If more new users understood that any post or comment on the blockchain becomes a permanent record and that they can't edit out history, they would be far less likely to try to game the system. Many are short-sighted, try to deceive the community and make a quick buck. They might be successful at it in the short run, but their reputation is permanent and in the long run members have much more to lose if others find out. In fact, your reputation will live long past your physical life here. Most people probably don't know that and if they did they would be far more careful. The community can educate more people about the permanence of blockchain data and that will result in more long-term thinking. People will have more to gain in actively participating in the system and can offer and receive far more value in the long run. It's up to the community to spread the awareness about the permanence of blockchain history.
5. Flagging, Public Ostracism & Shunning
The Amish use non-violent methods to punish those that harm the community. They shun their members from the community until they make amends. We can use similar methods to encourage positive activities on Steemit. We need to be careful to determine what is acceptable behavior and there are probably differing opinions about that, but overt examples of identify theft, copy & pasting, spam and trolling behavior should be identified and flagged. We can even post a 'Wall of Shame' for the most obvious offenders. We should also be compasssionate so perhaps after a year or so, we can forgive reformed offenders and encourage them to become active participants.
There is great potential to create a robust algorithmic system to minimize gaming and improve the reputation system on Steemit. Furthermore the community can help promote a culture of high integrity. A great reputation system is a major key to success so we should take great care to create an elegant solution as well as focus on iterating and improving it over time. A great reputation system can help members conduct business, lend money and form business relationships so its benefits will extend far beyond just a social network, but to an entire economy.