I really want a decent reputation network. Reputation networks are simple concept. Many have tried, but they just haven’t been done well yet. None has brought science fiction’s imagination of the reputation network into reality.

Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is the best fictional reputation network idea I’ve seen. Everyone uses its whuffie system, pervading its society like Google has ours. People would hardly have a conversation without checking your whuffie, seeing who strongly trust and distrust you, seeing who you mutually respect, who hate you both. Just like you’d quickly Google to research a bit of trivia.

But there is nothing yet like this system. There are networks where all your friends might have an account, but it’s hard to see what that social graph really implies. Still, there are some interesting tools today.

One of the first reputation networks was Pretty Good Privacy’s Web of Trust. Originally invented in 1992, there are a handful of good and free plugins to work with Outlook, Mail.app, or GMail in Firefox. And while I use PGP for all my email, I only have three people in my Web of Trust. Compare that to my Facebook friends or Twitter followers and it’s easy to see this old school reputation network is probably past its prime.

At the moment, Karmasphere and Naymz are the only companies trying to make whuffie real. Karmasphere is designed for programmers, not regular folks. It is just a database with reputation scores for certain identifiers like URIs and IP addresses. Naymes vaguely resembles a poorly designed LinkedIn with a reputation number tacked on. And it can’t manage to import much of the existing I already have spread about the web. So while these things aren’t well known or easy to use, they are out there.

The trouble with these networks is that their goal is to provide my One True Reputation™ value. Whereas PGP only says whether someone really is who they say they are. EBay ratings don’t mind if you are lying about your legal name, but they do care if you satisfy your customers. But startups like Grocio give real information we can use. Grocio just compares stores by reporting the prices of certain items. It doesn’t waste our time rating cleanliness, customer service or trendiness. It is hard data that we need while we’re getting used to searching to compare real things.

Eventually, places like Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau will start requiring claims be written by people who can prove they are who they say they are. That means if you won’t login with an OpenID or a X509 client certificate or a PGP key, then they won’t trust what you say at all. Once that happens, then I can decide if I want to trust your Yelp review based on whether you are someone I really trust.