London, May 22 : You buy something from eBay, find out it's defective and return it leaving a negative comment about the seller on the site. The next day you find the seller has retaliated by posting a nasty comment about you, branding you a time-waster. Suddenly you're persona non grata among all the sellers who don't want anything to do with you. If this scenario touches a nerve in you then help is at hand.
Until now eBay's rating system, which allows users of the auction and trading site to leave good or bad comments about their trading partners, has worked well.
Sellers who ship out damaged goods, or items that do not match their online description, rightly get a black mark against their name.
However, this system has recently come under increasing pressure from an all-too-human failing: spite. Sellers can easily retaliate against buyers who have named and shamed them, leaving unwarranted but highly visible comments - perhaps claiming that the buyers do not follow through with purchases, or needlessly return items they have bought.
Fear of this retaliatory "negging" can deter buyers from posting negative comments about their trading experiences. In turn, this threatens to undermine the trust that buyers place in sellers' ratings.
Now the question arises: How to protect your reputation online? Various companies are now offering to help, by managing what is written about you on the web.
ClaimID, founded by Terrell Russell and Fred Stutzman, is a free service that allows users to collect, annotate and verify information that is either about them, or written by them, such as blogs, websites or news articles mentioning them. The result is a list of links to websites the users have approved.
"You can think of it as an online link resume," New Scientist quoted Russell, as saying.
This means that when people search for your name they will come across your ClaimID profile, which brings together all the online material you want.
"The things that are about you online, the people you know, the contacts you make - they all equate to a reputation," says Stutzman.
Other companies, meanwhile, are offering to generate an online profile that will appear whatever website you use. TrustPlus, for example, allows users to integrate information from sites such as eBay and Facebook to create a public profile.
"Your reputation is yours, and should be available and usable wherever you are online," says TrustPlus's Shawn Broderick.