Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Cultivated Publicy

Publicy is a term coined (or at least signal-boosted to me) by Jeff Kaufman in a series of posts (beginning with JeffTK | Giving Up on Privacy, JeffTK | Publicy and Notification, and JeffTK | A Right to Publicy) that I think is pretty great, because it's intuition-bending in a way that's reflective of the way the digital world is shaping up to be different from the physical one. (See also: Wiki | Sousveillance.)

Tyler Cowen (of MR) recently pointed to an article by the NYT about an interesting non-privacy which seems somehow related (NYT | Ratings Now Cut Both Ways, so Don't Sass Your Uber Driver):

"Highly specific pools of reputation information will become more useful in aggregate," said Mr. Fertik, co-author with David C. Thompson of "The Reputation Economy," a guide to optimizing digital footprints. "If you're a really good Uber passenger, that may be useful information for Amtrak or American Airlines. But if you add in your reputation from Airbnb plus OpenTable plus eBay, it starts to get useful globally." (...)


I'd like to have publicy (note: not publicity) as a reasonably responsible, nice person who can be trusted with things, from cash which isn't mine (because I'm not going to steal it) to charity in discourse (because I'm really trying to make a good-faith effort to understand things when I discuss them), to people's time an attention (because I have things to say which they might want to hear). I mean, basically everyone would like publicy as [good thing] for most values of [good thing], deserved or not, so what I really mean is, "I believe I am [X], and would benefit from having publicy as [X]."

But what's a relatively-small-footprint citizen of the web to do? (...at least until reputation-economy companies all start combining their records and realize that I really do try to be nice to all of the customer service agents I meet.)


Well, when it became obvious that my track record of responsibly handling some thousands of dollars of cash for the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team (in the regular course of my executive-board duties) wasn't going to get much publicy, I realized that I should get limited-context publicy as a responsible-cash-handling person the same way that everyone else does -- by getting a credit card, using it in the exact same way as I currently do my debit card, and earning something called a "credit score".

(What the heck is a credit score? Wiki is supremely unhelpful, probably through no fault of their own. Is the system any better at predicting [some metric of] creditworthiness than an eigenvoting-based system would be? This is nothing more than a machine-learning problem, and having triopoly of opaque, FTC-regulated bureaus gives me exactly zero faith that they're machine-learning {intelligently, at all, better than my CS 181 class could, given 12 months}.)

I mean, of course the exercise is pretty dumb and contrived -- instead of making public actually-germane information about how I'm the sort of person banks should feel comfortable lending money to, I'm going through the exercise of putting several thousand dollars of business purchases on my "credit" card, paying off the balance 48 hours later when I get reimbursed by the team, and tricking some poor, hapless banks into thinking that I'm the sort of person banks should feel comforable lending money to.

There's got to be a better way to do this...except that "triopoly of FTC-regulated bureaus" inspires in me exactly zero confidence that a better way of doing things would actually be allowed to prevail in the marketplace. Maybe the future of credit is lenders rolling their own creditworthiness-scoring, a la Upstart or BancAlliance?


As for being a person worth listening to, debating charitably, &c., well, I have a confession to make: That's basically the entire reason I'm writing this blog. I don't yet know what importatnt object-level things I want to say yet, but when I do, I'd like to have built a reputation (and a habit, and a knack) for saying things worth listening to.

I'm not sure if this is working, or if I'm even digging myself into a hole as an uninteresting or untrustable commentator, but I figure I'll keep trying, because (perhaps vainly), I do feel that the publicy is good publicy.

Relatedly, when I signal-boost blog posts via Facebook (which is almost as often as "when I write blog posts"), I tag the posts with "public to everyone" security settings, mostly so that people visiting my Facebook page can see a little more about me than the past twelve cover photos I've gone through.


I don't know how to cultivate publicy as a nice person (in person) except by being a nice person as much as I can. I'm not certain that this is a problem that lends itself to easy fixes as much as the first two do.


While I've still got some opportunities related to being a college student, I'm trying to build a little publicy as a reasonably-competent web-developer: jumping on opportunities like joining The Crimson's new Data Journalism team, building a nice-looking blog, running some freelance web-dev on the side, and occasionally making my class projects publicly accessible.


There are, of course, plenty of other possible case studies in intentional publicy -- this was just meant as a brain-dump of some things I've been doing recently in my life.

Somehow related to all this is a comment Ben Kuhn made on a thread in the Effective Altruists Facebook group:

I do find the consequences of a secondary market on human equity pretty amusing though. I'm imagining some hedge fund analyst going through my blog trying to figure out whether I'll go into earning to give or direct EA work...

Postscriptum: In other contexts, an intentional focus on positive publicy is called "resume-building", often with some derision. Am I just falling prey to the same social-expectations trap, but using other words to justify it to myself?

Postscriptum secundus: This is a pretty atypical use of the term publicy; you should treat Jeff's posts on the topic as the canonical definition of what 'publicy' means, and mine as trying to push the envelope of the concept a little.