"I just noticed something new in the advogato pages. When looking at a user, you get the following warning:
Note: By certifying a user you are making a public statment that you know this person and can vouch for their identity.
When did this happen?
I must disagree with this sudden pseudo-gpg keysigning level of certification, especially since this warning is now retroactively applied to people's previous certifications, by mere virtue of being tacked on the bottom of the list."
The new text appeared on Oct 1, 2006 when Advogato was migrated to the newer version of mod_virgule. The message is hard-coded in the module that creates the user profile page and was originally added, not for Advogato, but for robots.net some years before.
On robots.net, the users are not all programmers and many don't have previous experience with any sort of trust metrics. As a whole, the user base had begun to view the trust metric system as nothing more than a group-powered method of allowing other users to post on the site. As a result there was a huge amount of cert inflation (even compared to Advogato) with a large percentage of the user base tending toward Master certification. Many users were automatically certifying all new users as Masters, assuming this would allow them to post and therefore improve the community. In reality, it just increased the noise and spam level, of course.
I experimented with a variety of short messages under the cert dialog to impress upon people that by certifying someone, they bore some responsibility for the results. This particular message seemed to have the most dramatic effect and, over time, solved our problem.
I agree it's unnecessary for Advogato since most users here understand to one degree or another what the trust metric is for. I'll take a look at making this page more easily configurable on a site-by-site basis. That will allow us to use different text on Advogato or remove the message altogether.
With regard to the actual meaning, I didn't intend for "know this person" to mean only that you've met them in person, in meatspace. You might also know them in some other online capacity outside of Advogato. You might know them through email, IRC, another website, etc. In some cases, you might even get to know them by reading their blog on Advogato long enough to feel comfortable expressing some trust for them. I assume Raph meant something similar in his original cert instructions when he says to certify "free software developers you know". My understanding of the trust metric is that you're certifying to the community that you trust the subject really is who they claim to be (at least to the extent that they claim to be a member of the free software community).