As with search and with syndication, we can get as technical about it as we want, and there are many places you can go to for the technical bits. Not here, Iâ€™m afraid. I still want to get through some first-principle thoughts, get some things clear in my head. Part of why I blog is to articulate nascent thoughts and opensource them in order to improve them.
Apologies if all this sounds like going over someone elseâ€™s well-trodden ground; it is exactly that; but I have found that many of these debates founder on semantics and terminology and definitions, and as a result I prefer a first-things-first approach. Please feel free to criticise or trash it. [In fact I would expect this post to attract more flames than any other Iâ€™ve done ]
The identity debate seems to encompass many disparate things, either directly or indirectly, so Iâ€™m going to just list them to begin with:
- Ecce Homo: A means of identifying who I am, with some other relatively static data, eminently suitable for â€œmicroformatâ€ treatment, and probably needing to be combined with some other way of confirming who I am, â€œtwo-factor authenticationâ€. Like having a card and a PIN or signature. This is as permanent as can be, a metaphorical passport or fingerprint or iris pattern or whatever. This probably includes all the numerical tags I collect like frequent flyer and affinity memberships. It can include my credit cards and accounts. It is the same regardless of the specific relational or transactional conversation I happen to be in. My gut feel is that each person should have only one of these, and that it should be â€œsmall but perfectly formedâ€. And that it has to exist and be verifiable in a dotorg state.
- Letters of Intent: A means of letting people know about my intentions, what Iâ€™m interested in or looking for. I make known my preferences and interests. Some of them are temporary, some of them are permanent. I choose who I want to tell. As in Doc looking for rental cars. As in my signalling to individuals in my social network that I will be within n miles of where they are at a given time. My information. Signalled to whom I want to. When and where I want to. Giving the listener an opportunity to converse with me and relate to me. Even things like last.fm are variants of this.
- Tell them Phil sent ya: A way of associating other peopleâ€™s perceptions of me with me, both qualitative as well as quantitative. This is trust that I can acquire but not control. Ratings I have, whether credit or eBay or college scores or whatever. Variable over time. Not suppressible by me. But challengeable by me, so that dispute or contention can be flagged. I may have many such ratings, used for different purposes, but inspectable at the behest of the requestor. And changed as a result of the conversation.
- Trust me, Iâ€™m a doctor: A way of telling other people my own perception of me. Kitemarking my sites and blogs and articles and photos and quotes and whatever. Here what I am doing is endorsing stuff in the public domain about me, indicating (a) this came from me or (b) even though it does not come from me, I nevertheless approve it, I endorse it. This is like a great seal, a way of stamping that something is Orl Korrect. Or that Kilroy was Here.
- My name is Bond, James Bond: A licence to do something. Granted by someone else. Usually not transferable. Usually not permanent either.
- Come up and see my etchings: My choosing to expose things I have done, expired and executed letters of intent. Pictures of my activity with others. Kiss-and-tell. My information. My choice as to whom I share it with. And I can make this choice single-use or temporary or permanent. Probably even includes financial transactions and medical history.
These things by themselves are not complicated. They become complicated when people try to lock you in, to their walled gardens, their products, their platforms, their parlours. Everything here is a key to something.
And the tendency of the walled-gardeners is to force these keys to behave as if they were physical. And we need to move into the 21st century and push back. Hard. Like we had to push back on being able to choose our PINs and change them. Like we had to push back on being able to keep our phone numbers regardless of carrier or provider. Can you imagine a mail provider telling you that you couldnâ€™t redirect mail either from or to the mail account they provide to you?
And intuitively (I may be completely wrong here) I think that the trick is to keep each of these pieces small and loosely joined a la Weinberger meets Hardt meets Sifry while Searls referees. As soon as we try to architect a humongous reference model we lose, because itâ€™s a bit like industry standards bodies. Before you know it they get packed with people who have different agendas and the time and energy to deflect you ad infinitum and ad nauseum.
Iâ€™m also hunching that we need to prevent anyone owning this. That this whole space has to be opensource. Otherwise it will become a corrupt core.
Everything we believe is possible in terms of collaboration and co-creation and innovation at the edge, everything in my four pillars,Â needs this problem to be solved.