Webb of Trust: Webb-site launches index to measure trust in people, organisations

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David Webb has harnessed the power of his Webb-site to create a crowdsourced ratings system ranking the trustworthiness of companies, NGOs, government today.

Photo by purplejavatroll on www.flickr.com


 

Today, David Webb, minority shareholder rights activist and broad ranging commentator on all things Hong Kong, launched a new dimension of his famous webb-site: The Webb-site Governance Ratings.

Those signed up for his weekly newsletter will be able to rank organisations on governance on a scale from 0 to 5. New registrants can sign up, newsletter optional. Organisations registrants can rank include HK-listed companies, HKSAR Advisory Bodies, Statutory Bodies, and Governmental bodies like the HK Executive and Legislative Councils and the Hong Kong SAR and PRC Governments. Political parties are on the list too.

“we already have a large database of entities that users can rate, including all the directors of every HK-listed company since 1990, members of statutory and advisory bodies (since about 2000), District Councils since 1999, Legislative Council since 1985, Election Committee since 1996 and so on. We also have entries for each of the 1.3 million live companies in HK (but not their directors, as the Companies Registry is still paywalled), as well as all the SFC-licensed persons.

Not content to serve up organisations for the public’s critical eye, individuals are on the list too with the Webb-site Trust Ratings for individuals. According to his launch page, “Do you highly or lowly trust a particular company director, politician, statutory body member or just the boss of your financial services firm, perhaps? How about your financial adviser? If you can find them in Webb-site Who’s Who, then you can enter a trust rating for them.”

Harbour Times’ had a few questions for the legendary investor and sometimes rabble rouser, never one to shy away from controversy in the service of transparency and good governance.

 

Q: What are your objectives in setting this up?

A: Facilitating transparency, aggregation of public opinions, and providing some element of reward and deterrent for good and bad governance or behaviour respectively.

Q: How much did it require of you in terms of resources?

A: Dozens of hours of my coding! If it takes off then I may need to buy more hardware, but that would be a nice problem to have.

Q: Is there any revenue model or is it pure philanthropy/interest, like Webb-site?

A: There’s no revenue model. It is part of my pro bono contribution to HK.

Q: Why you? What is it about it being a “Webb-site” that will deter competitors from starting a rival?

A: There’s nothing to stop competitors, but if we build a critical mass then we may have first-mover advantage and network effects, because I doubt that people want to contribute ratings to multiple disparate sites. On the other hand, if a better service comes along then I will be happy to have inspired it. Hong Kong needs something like this and, as I have no commercial motive, it doesn’t matter to me if someone else does it better, as long as it remains free and open.

Webb-site has a head start in the sense that we already have a large database of entities that users can rate, including all the directors of every HK-listed company since 1990, members of statutory and advisory bodies (since about 2000), District Councils since 1999, Legislative Council since 1985, Election Committee since 1996 and so on. We also have entries for each of the 1.3 million live companies in HK (but not their directors, as the Companies Registry is still paywalled), as well as all the SFC-licensed persons.

Q: How do you anticipate it growing? Targets?

A: That depends on users’ willingness to anonymously contribute their ratings. This is somewhat experimental and all suggestions for improvement are welcome.

“It doesn’t matter to me if someone else does it better, as long as it remains free and open.

Q: Is there a Chinese language version planned?

A: It is somewhat hybrid already. Stock codes are numeric and therefore universal, and names are searched in English but Chinese characters are shown where we can (not every person has a Chinese name – I don’t, and we are still back-filling Chinese names for directors). I hope we can do a fully Chinese interface later, if the initial system gains traction.

Q: What legal/libel issues do you think you might have arising from people unhappy with their rankings and comments (if any)?

A: None. The Governance and Trust Ratings are matters of opinions, not fact. If you or your organisation doesn’t like your rating, look in the mirror – or try to get your friends to sign up and give you better scores! One of the benefits of a one-click rating system is that we don’t have to run a take-down service to remove libellous remarks that a free-text system would attract.

Q: What measures have you taken, if any, to prevent site manipulation by Fifty Centers, PR hacks, or organised “vote us up!” campaigns? Is it possible to avoid?

A: We cannot rule this out completely, but there are various measures we have taken, including requiring all users to pass a “captcha” check on sign-up and then click a link in an e-mail, which activates the account. The captcha prevents automated sign-ups (bots) but of course we can’t stop people creating multiple e-mail addresses to push the ratings in either direction. Hopefully that all evens out with enough participation, but of course users should be aware that the scores of small samples may not be meaningful.

Q: Are you concerned about claims of it being biased given your natural base of English speaking/finance/investor/intelligentsia?

A: It’s not intended to be a randomised cross-section of the population. If anything, having a more educated and intelligent community of participants probably produces higher quality assessments. Even with randomised telephone polling, there is always some bias, because it depends on your probability of answering calls from numbers you don’t recognise (I seldom do).

“All suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Q: This is a departure from the Webb-site, which is the voice of Webb. Now you are giving voice to others. Does this change the nature of what you are doing in Hong Kong?

A: Yes, it is a new direction for the “Webb-site Who’s Who” part of the site – but I will continue to write editorial content for the “Webb-site Reports” part of the site. Crowdsourcing the database is something I hope to do more of in the future.

Q: Is there a disconnect between the general public and people running these organisations? Do you think they will be surprised to see what a broader audience outside of their boardroom thinks about them?

A: Some will be surprised, but others won’t, or simply don’t care.

 

Get online and register using the “Get free newsletter” button in the top corner (or click here). Users will have their own account so they can review their past ratings. Receiving the actual newsletter is optional and can be selected, or not, on registration.

The launch page: https://webb-site.com/articles/ratingslaunch.asp

CORRECTION: The original version of this article suggested people needed to sign up for the newsletter to have an account. This has been corrected – the newsletter is optional.