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November 02, 2006

the power of reputation

Here's an observation about networks. Some people know a lot of others within a field or community and are very widely liked. It is difficult to criticize anything they do or say, either in their company or behind their backs, because the odds are high that others present will like them and be biased in their favor. On the other hand, some people have made lots of enemies within a network. It is difficult to praise any of their work behind their backs, because other people tend to be biased against them.

Reputation is self-reinforcing--and more so in tightly woven networks. People who are liked and admired generate praise even when they are not present--and even when their actual work doesn't merit support. People who are widely disliked do not get the credit they deserve; they never fare well in conversations that occur out of their hearing.

There is a huge literature on social networks--even a specialized blog. I'll bet that literature includes studies of the pattern I mention here. In any event, smart activists understand it instinctively and work every day to bolster their reputations.

Posted by peterlevine at November 2, 2006 09:53 AM

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