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Networker Hoffman launches Rapleaf -- to track your reputation beyond eBay

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Auren Hoffman, a professional networker in Silicon Valley, has launched Rapleaf, a company that keeps track of your reputation for reliability as you buy and sell things online.

He is going after one of the more valuable monopolized assets out there, which is eBay's rating of its buyers and sellers. Indeed, with Yahoo and Google looking for the next place to grow, and with Google trying to build out its online marketplace GoogleBase, Google may be hankering to get a valuable reputation asset similar to eBay. Reputations will be helpful for advertisers too, as buyers and sellers seek to advertise their wares.

Silicon Valley has a lot of professional networkers, but few of them are as organized as Auren Hoffman. He runs a the Stonebrick Group, which helps its clients connect with customers they are trying to reach..

It follows, perhaps, that Hoffman, who usually deals with offline reputations, allowing people offline to hook up for business, is now launching a Web site that tracks people's reputations so that they can be better prepared to do online transactions.

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Hoffman
We talked with Hoffman a few days ago. He said Rapleaf will launch May 7. He wants to give people a portable rating, so that they can build a reputation in any commerce environment -- including offline.

It is a good idea, as there is apparently no Web site that efficiently tracks e-commerce reputations across sites. EBay tracks reputations, but these are limited to eBay transactions. A couple of other companies are trying to track reputations across sites, such as ikarma, which lets people who have done business with you leave comments about how you handled the transaction, but the information there seems rudimentary so far, and ikarma apparently rate you on all kinds of things, even dating. And there's Opinity, which deals more with your identity than your reputation, and also apparently focuses on dating.

The trick will be whether Rapleaf will get the cooperation it needs from big Websites to obtain real transaction information, and not just rely on comments people leave about others they do business with. Hoffman told us that he is working to build up such partnerships, and named Edgeio, a new online classifieds site as one example of a company he wants to work with. Indeed, he invested in that company, which was co-founded by Michael Arrington. We note that Michael has just blogged about Rapleaf too.

Hoffman said he is self-funding the two-person effort so far, but will start raising venture capital after the company launches. His co-founder is Manish Shah, and the company is based in SF.

For now, here's how it will work: If Auren buys five U2 tickets from Matt for tomorrow's show for $150, he can go to Rapleaf after the show and say "Matt is good at selling tickets, he sold me five tickets, they were great, and even threw in a free parking pass." Matt then gets an email saying he was rated positively, and which asks him he wants to rate Auren, the buyer. Matt says: "Auren, he wasn't very courteous."

Rapleaf wants to avoid letting people trash others without cause, and so it is building in community features which allow members to flag things if they appear wrong. For example, Auren or someone else can protest Matt's rating, and appeal to Rapleaf to take down the negative comment. Rapleaf then relies on the reputation it has already built up about Matt. If Matt doesn't have a reputation, and he is trashing someone with a good reputation, then Matt doesn't carry any weight, and the comment is removed.

It is just the latest company for Hoffman, who started and sold three Internet companies before age 30. He was previously CEO of BridgePath, enterprise software to staffing firms (sold in 2002). Auren also founded Kyber Systems, an Intranet development firm (sold in 1997) and co-founded GetRelevant, an Internet lead-generation network (sold in 2002).


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Comments

Sounds like a great idea.

It makes sense that a company would handle reputation data across multiple sites. The key will of course be critical mass, but if anyone out there knows how to make this type of venture successful, it's Auren.


Dan Engel on April 24, 2006 10:41 AM
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It's not surprising that RapLeaf is getting some great initial response. With Auren Hoffman in the lead, it's sure to be a focused, well-executed effort. That is also why we at Opinity are excited to be working to join forces in a few highly complimentary ways... stay tuned.

Contrary to what others are thinking, I feel RapLeaf need not take on eBay any time soon. Challenging eBay might happen later, I suppose. Rather, I think Auren has a far more fascinating, more imprtant, and equally valuable idea. I'd call RapLeaf the eBay rating system for the rest of us. This can be a great service, if it can reach a tipping point. If RapLeaf succeeds, then the e-commerce space will be nicely covered by two reputation systems which are effectively identical in appearance and functionality: one that is eBay's huge walled garden and a twin service that covers (if RapLeaf delivers on its ambition)rating information for pretty much everything else. Personally, I believe this *could* be a great big giant step for the ecommerce space.

bill washburn on April 24, 2006 3:52 PM
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Part of the issue here is that if you have a general reputation system untethered to any kind of 'transaction' or verifiable action (like in the eBay example) you run the risk of rampant abuse. One interesting example is a company called "RepCheck" whose URL still works I think. Their idea was to prepopulate a database with addresses/names from phone book databases and then let anyone vouch for anyone else (this was 5+ years ago, an Internet 1.0 idea :-) ... with the attendant issues you could imagine. This could be a very cool application or idea, whether it's a company remains to be seen.

Robert Leathern on April 25, 2006 8:02 PM
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Good point Robert. The more I think about it, the more the basis really has to be the "transaction." I think Auren may realize that, or at least he appreciates that -- so he is likely to go after partnerships to get this info.

Matt Marshall on April 25, 2006 8:34 PM
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Speaking about ratings...
Why don't we establish ratings for everything?
As an Internet user you, probably, have already tried to find ratings on some things which you consider to buy, use or get more information on. It may be services (hosting, design or movie rentals), public figures, consumer goods, articles or books, news, movies, beer, hotels, websites and much more.
You have, perhaps, seen thousands of fragmented websites, discussion forums, which force you to dig for the information even more.
With Ratingo you got one-stop shop, where you can find what people think (and why) about all you have been searching for before.

ratingo.com

ratingo.com on April 26, 2006 3:38 PM
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iKarma.com is designed to be used as a proactive tool that good business people can use to smooth the sales process. I?m not aware on anyone using it for dating (although I suppose it could be) Many other reputation systems seem to be focused on building a structure that we find tends to devolve into a complaint board. Most businesses never make much effort to capture the good word of mouth that they receive. The result of course is that eventually an unhappy customer comes along and posts a complaint on a blog or message board. This then becomes the only thing people find when they search. Every current solution has issues to deal with. iKarma.com is still in beta. But it would be foolish to wait till all the bugs are worked out. For most good business people, reputation management works today (as it always has) and can be used today to increase customer trust and generate more business.

Paul Williams - ceo of iKarma on April 26, 2006 4:39 PM
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