Thursday, December 06, 2007

Trust in the Little Things

Designing for a trust relationship ...

"Despite nearly a decade of research into the fragile nature of trust relationships in online user experiences, we continue to see organizations implementing devices such as abbreviated link URLs that jeopardize trust relationships for little or no benefit.

What is a trust relationship? One widely accepted definition of trust comes from the classic book Foundations of Social Theory, by James S. Coleman. Coleman offers a four-part definition of trust:

* “Placement of trust allows actions that otherwise are not possible—that is, trust allows actions to be conducted based on incomplete information on the case in hand.
* “[If] the person in whom trust is placed (trustee) is trustworthy, then the trustor will be better off than if he or she had not trusted. Conversely, if the trustee is not trustworthy, then the trustor will be worse off than if he or she had not trusted.
* “Trust is an action that involves the voluntary placement of resources—physical, financial, intellectual, or temporal—at the disposal of the trustee with no real commitment from the trustee.
* “A time lag exists between the extension of trust and the result of the trusting behavior.”

The second point in Coleman’s definition has the corollary that the trustor’s past experiences with the trustee will influence the trustor’s future trust decisions with the trustee. This essentially constitutes a Bayesian decision tree in which each past experience influences the trustor’s expectation of the likelihood of success or failure resulting from trust. When the trustor does this mental equation as he assesses whether he should place his trust in the trustee, negative experiences more severely affect his decision. Put another way, once a trustee breaks trust, it is difficult to regain it.
The Essence of Online Trust Relationships

In what ways are online trust relationships distinctive? Unlike physical relationships, in which we can rely on cues such as body language and speech patterns to help us assess the credibility of another person, in online environments we lack many of these helpful indicators. We are also unable to observe and verify obvious characteristics such as age and gender, instead being reliant on the statements of the other person. We cannot readily determine whether other people are misrepresenting themselves.

Because we have fewer facts on which we can rely in judging the level of trust we should place in another person, our approach to the formation of an online trust relationship is more progressive than it might be in offline interpersonal relationships."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

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