Introduction to the Internet of Communities

Inspired by close-knit communities, the Internet of Communities is a proposal to add a layer of social trust on the Web so that people can engage with more confidence and actualize greater value for themselves and their communities.

Our postulate is that cooperation and social engagement cannot happen without some degree of social trust. In other words, people need to trust each other to a certain extent in order to engage with each other. Yet, trust being a willingness to depend on another person, and because trusting others involves to take a risk, relationships based on mutual trust can only be shared with a handful of people. Due to this cognitive limit known as the Dunbar’s number, people cannot maintain trusted relationships beyond a limited set of peers. [1] Therefore, those special relationships remain confined to small social clusters. The IoC proposes to overcome this limit by taking advantage of the transitive nature of trust, “since those they trust, trust other people they do not know yet”. Trust coming hand in hand with the notion of betrayal, this proposal intends to make narrow advantages less desirable than honest relationships. The IoC is a new approach to scale up social trust in a way that is yet to be addressed by new social technologies.

Indeed, even though we now have a much greater breadth and rate of interaction, the number of trusted peers we have today is pretty much the same as it was before the rise of social networks. And while these platforms provide an unprecedented opportunity to meet and interact with new people, they offer little tools for users to build confidence among themselves. One reason is to be found in their architecture. Being centralized systems, trust between participants is mediated by a central authority. The very architecture of such top down environments discourages those participants from developing personal relations of trust as a fundamental element in their relationships. “As long as some third party […] is the source of an individual’s identity credentials, that individual’s freedom and control over their identity and data are limited”. [2] Not ideally wired to forge bonds of trust between themselves, people come to lack the supportive social fabric they benefit from in their offline communities. Another reason is to be found in business models primarily focused on communication and network growth. Within that scheme, users are encouraged to connect with an ever growing set of peers which goes beyond the reality of their social interactions: “[…] mounting evidence suggests that many of the forecasts and analyses being produced misrepresent the real world”. [3] These distortions and biases from real life experiences prevent people from assessing the reliability of those they wish to engage with. As a result, while social trust is pervasive in all human communities, it still does not thrive on the social Web.

Inspired by close-knit communities, the proposal is to promote the free association of people for common purposes by adding a layer of social trust on the Web with no central control and with simple rules of operation. First, by interconnecting a multitude of human-sized communities, social trust stays strong and engagement is more likely to occur. Second, assuming that bad reputation repels and good reputation attracts, the IoC aims to explore how collective reputation can be used as a catalyst to regulate social interactions within these small social clusters. If individuals’ reputation affect each other, a collective reputation mechanism could act as a systematic incentive to inhibit behaviors that are detrimental to the collective reputational asset, and to foster those that are beneficial to the group. Third, unable to increase the size of their network beyond a certain limit, and tied by a collective reputation, users need to remain attractive to the rest of their community if they do not want to be replaced by more outstanding peers. As a result, there is a strong incentive to anchor relationships in reciprocity, fairness and excellence. Influence and leadership are more likely to shift to those who positively impact their communities, to those who lead by example, and to those who reciprocate with fairness.

The main distinctive features of the Internet of Communities are:

  1. human-sized networks nested in a continuum of trust
  2. interdependence expressed by collective reputation
  3. reciprocity for social clusters of higher value and influence (emergent property)

Accordingly, these features are expected to initiate a shift:

  1. from large networks to strong ones
  2. from the pursuit of individual interests to the pursuit of collective interests
  3. from a static and dissonant leadership to a more dynamic and resonant leadership

Designed from first principles, this proposal for a networked social environment introduces both a collective intelligence mechanism and a resource allocation system to actualize greater human, social and economic value from online communities. The desired output is for the Internet of Communities to become a working model for a networked social system and the blueprint for new crowdsourcing initiatives. “[..] The real disruption taking place is not technology; it’s a trust shift that will open the doors to new and sometimes counter-intuitive — ways of designing  systems that will change human behavior on a large scale”. [5] And, “It becomes clear that the best way to unlock enormous stores of value on networks is to develop tools that can facilitate GFNs (Group Forming Networks). This will be the next great Internet disruption. But to achieve this, we must develop a network architecture and software systems that can enable people to build trust and social capital in user-centric, scalable ways”. [6]


The IoC in a nutshell:

  • Intention: Maximizing social engagement.
  • Basic assumption: Social engagement is based on social trust.
  • Opportunity: Current social technologies offer little tools for people to build trust among themselves, engagement levels remain low, online communities are left with an unmet potential and an equally unmet opportunity.
  • Proposal: Creating a layer of social trust with no central control and simple rules of operation:
    • human-sized networks nested in a continuum of trust,
    • interdependence expressed by collective reputation,
    • reciprocity for social clusters of higher value and influence (emergent property).
  • Desired output: Set the stage for new crowdsourcing models.



The Internet of Communities aims at maximizing social engagement by adding a layer of social trust on the Web.



[1] Robin Dunbar, Neocortex Size as a Constraint on Group Size in Primates, Journal of Human Evolution 20 (6), 1992, pp. 469-493.

[2] Google Inc, Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 743-44 (1979). Case5:13-md-02430-LHK Document 44 Filed 06/13/13 Page 28 of 39, Case No. 5:13-md-02430-LHK, September 5, 2013.

[3] Dhavan V. Shah, Joseph N. Cappella, W. Russell Neuman, Big Data, Digital Media, and Computational Social Science: Possibilities and Perils, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, May 2015 vol. 659 no. 1 6-13.

[4] Rachel Botsman, Technology is Making it Easier to Trust Strangers, Wired, January 29 2016.

[5] John H. Clippinger, David Bollier, From Bitcoin to Burning Man and Beyond, The Quest for Identity and Autonomy in a Digital Society, Chapter 3, The Next Great Internet Disruption: Authority and Governance, p. 22, ID3, 2014.

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