An interesting aspect of online self-subscription networks / communities has come up on the com-prac (communities of practice) Yahoo Group in the last few days.
At least two financial advising firms have begun creating collections of experts to help them with advising their clients (mutual and hedge funds): Circle of Experts and The Councils of Advisors. Experts are self-selected into these networks, and they are contracted to advise clients in their area of expertise. The idea of doing this on the web is to find more experts than the firms could find on their own, and to serve as a source of income for the experts.
The concern is that there is no way to guarantee quality -- either from the consulting firms or from the experts. How does one establish trust in a situation where it feels like the experts are being treated as temps? Is this simply a ploy on the part of the advising companies to show off how many experts they have registered to serve their clients? What is to prevent the advising firm (or their clients) from simply Googling for experts in the given area? At least neither of these services ask for your list of contacts (on the initial registration page).
Background: This summer, there were a number of articles and blog threads about social networking via web-communities like Ryze and Friendster. They focused on the Six Degrees of Separation ideas -- you identify who are your friends & acquaintances, and you get some idea of how connected you are. Within Friendster there is essentially a competition to show off how big your network can be -- how many contacts you can collect. Trust came up here when people began faking their contact count and their entire identity. They were fakesters. When Friendster started booting apparent fakesters, they generated more controversy, eventually spawning Fakester as a backlash.
Here is one of zillions of posts on Trust in the Friendster and Ryze social networks, if you are interested.