Applying the Web of Trust Model to Blog Reading

This was originally written in November of 2012, but I for some reason never published it.

There seems to be a growing trend in that reading Hacker News or Reddit is a waste of time. But, even those who agree with that statement, seem to also agree that reading blogs is quite valuable. Some will utilize their social media connections to filter, and others still will just read posts from people who they know, or otherwise respect.

How will one discover new blogs and new people to respect? I see two ways but only one is interesting to think about1.

Option 0: Code is written by people. If we discover the code (in some other way) and respect it, then we might respect the author enough to read his/her thoughts on technical things.

Option 1: Much more interesting is the Phil Zimmerman conceived “Web of Trust”, which exists primarily to distribute and verify public keys in lieu of a certificate authority.

I regularly exchange emails with 3 other people regarding tech news, new algorithms, interesting CS papers, things about startups, etc. They’re already in my web of trust, since I a) know them personally, b) respect their thoughts, ideas and opinions on things. I also trust that they won’t waste my time with some frivolous article. So, I automatically read everything they write.2

By transitivity, I’m also likely to trust some portion of articles their web of trust writes and as a result, reading articles recommended by them, or engaging in discussion with their web of trust, is not unthinkable. I certainly don’t have to trust them completely, that’s the beauty of the web of trust model, but I can, if I wish, choose to trust a friend’s friend because I trust the friend to not have untrustworthy friends.

Said another way, and in a more palatable way… If many people within 2 degrees of me trust a given blog, or a given author, it’s very likely that I should give them a shot by reading something of theirs.

That just leaves one thing. What does an RSS/Atom aggregator look like in this model?3

  1. This only considers blog posts targetting to proggit, or the technical Hacker News, which discuss technology that programmers utilize and criticize.

  2. The same can be said for links they just happen to share related to the news. I don’t necessarily have to know the author if my web of trust recommends it.

  3. Since first writing this, and not publishing it in a timely manner (first written in November 2012), there have been a few attempts [][9], and maybe less so [][10] that make the web of trust model not so explicit, but rather subtle.

— 2013-07-25