Owning the People Namespace

Chris Messina is an interesting guy to follow. Sort of an “NGO celebrity” on the web, he’s known as an advocate for open standards and efforts such as OpenID, DISO and Microformats, and in the past also SpreadFirefox.

One of the many issues Chris writes passionately about is our online identity. That little link I added to his name in the opening words of this post triggers an entire domain of debates, ideals and evil plans to take over the world. Should I have linked to his Facebook page? or Twitter? perhaps MySpace or even Google? all these companies beg us to choose them as our identity providers, so that we will let them be our companions when we visit other websites, thus helping their “social colonization” efforts.

So in a way, those companies are trying to become the global people namespace. On the web I may be http://facebook.com/ofer.egozi, or http://linkedin.com/in/oferegozi etc., and as Dave Morin of facebook tweeted, “/ is the new @ (hence their PR extravaganza on vanity urls). Our identity is associated with the domain on that url, much as our email domain.

An interesting corrolary I can suggest here is that the “commitment” of that company to your identity is reflected in the extra padding next to that ‘/’. Companies such as twitter and facebook say “profiles are not just another application for us, they ARE our application”, whereas others such as linkedin and google still interject a /in/ or /profiles/ in between, just in case something else becomes more important…

So why not use his Facebook then? with social networks being such a relatively new entities, we seem to forget the temporariness of a business organization. We also tend to forget that those network accounts are only as free as beer, and the organizations behind them can arbitrarily delete a user or change their policies any time, and your anchor on the web which you built over the years is suddenly at stake.Personal Anchor on the Web for Digital Identity

My own identity is this blog. I own the domain, I maintain an OpenID on it using WordPress.com, and I can always decide to modify that identity, take it elsewhere or remove it altogether. The control over that identity, how it’s portrayed and used remains with me, even if many other aspects (think social graph) are still locked up elsewhere. That’s a start.

2 responses to “Owning the People Namespace

  1. This is, of course, not new.
    We’ve been required to “trust” some organization of human beings for a while.
    100,000 years ago you decided to join a group of other humans to kill more mammoths. You had to trust the other members to not eat you when you’re asleep. Sometimes this trust was broken.
    We trust our state, which issues our real-world identity, the passport, to not arbitrarily jail us, kill us or send us to be killed for some greater good. Sometimes this trust is broken.
    Now we have to trust another type of organization of people which is a privately held company that deals with magnetic irregularities on disks stored in big closets somewhere in Southern California.

    What’s the difference?

    • Nothing in the world is ever new, if you go down the path of Kohelet. But some things are, well, different than before.

      The main point here is not that the concept is new, but rather that this new “arrangement” is being set up as we speak (so, yes, I’m sure the first people to organize a state or issue a passport, did not take that lightly), and that it’s happening at an incredible pace, so you must not blink or you’ll miss the moment.

      We have our institutional safeguards today, built and perfected over centuries, against state-based identity-thefts, arbitrary decisions, breach of trust etc. The equivalent mechanisms in online identity are far from being there, and for now it all depends on the good nature of the individuals inducing those magnetic irregularities.

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