Two opposite approaches are emerging around the Facebook phenomenon and against it. On the one hand (inside FB), a concentration of several different services on a single platform: status info, short messages, bookmarks, photos, videos, polls and surveys, events and invitations and groups. Each user builds a rich identity within a simple network of peers.
On the other hand (outside FB), there is an overwhelming variety of specialized services to which a person can be subscribed – a
networked identity, with several profiles – each one of us with his special bouquet of subscriptions to be maintained (and a lot of work to keep the whole thing together).
Between these two extremes, a new significant approach to using the web is surfacing. It is not somewhere in the middle, but its nature is to oscillate back and forth. I call it the Id web, as identity is its fundamental ingredient, and its oscillating nature is intrinsically tied to the way we make use of the tools we subscribed to.
Every time we publish a photo on a Facebook gallery
(instead of doing so on Flickr) we enrich a specific but limited
profile, expanding one single identity in the network.
Every time we
write our email
username and password in an "import my contacts" form on any given
social networking platform, we cross a boundary and, by doing so, we
expose a piece of our networked identity.
There are several trade-offs at work here. To name a few:
- service quality vs quantity of contacts;
- ease of use vs feature richness, respectively lowering and raising the entry barrier for less experienced users;
- the need to preserve privacy vs the desire to build an interesting profile;
- rich personal profiles vs keeping a neat distinction between different personae (the most obvious being private/professional).
I have grouped the components of online identity into three, overlapping groups: verification, attributes, relations. I say attributes instead of content (which would be probably clearer) because that would be too specific for the present classification. Having all these three together in one single platform provides an easy (but limited) entry point – as in set theory, we can call it the intersection approach. At the opposite extreme we have the union of all possible experiences, in all its glorious richness (and maintenance headaches).
Verification and Id management
OpenId (with Google, Yahoo! and IBM on board) is beginning to gain momentum as a credible "identity provider". Some changes in technology adoption (biometrics, certificates) and the precious experience built in the last 10 years in the corporate world in pursuit of the holy grail of Single-Sign-On (leading to wider recognition of the issue, well beyond the world of IT workers) should provide an interesting amount of change in this area.
This is a simple story, as specialized services rule here: Flickr (images), YouTube (video), delicious (bookmarks), Twitter (status), SlideShare (slides). Aggregators such as Friendfeed create a reasonably complete cloud of all the content that builds up to a sound, 360° image of an online persona. Facebook itself does the same, but in a somehow sloppier way.
Along with the usual social networking suspects – LinkedIn (and Plaxo, Xing and Naymz and so on), I think it would be appropriate to put special emphasis on BroadBandMechanics' PeopleAggregator (for its open standards approach) and on protocols such as FOAF (Friend-Of-A-Friend) or DiSo Activity Stream (an RSS-like, interoperable representation of social online activities).
What about overlapping areas? I believe that battles for primacy (…or survival) will be fought there, but we have seen this before. And, to complete the picture:
- I do not believe that a single winner will emerge in the intersection of the three areas;
- I bet that the real interesting stuff will happen at the union level and not on the intersection, even if the most palatable stories (referring to mainstream media) will happen in Facebook-like ecosystem.
Several questions arise: will there be a global winner to take over the entire scenario? Who will control (…or help us manage) our online identities? Will we be able to retain an acceptable degree of control on our public image? How do applications, games and interactive tools fall into this frame? Will a Facebook-on-steroids-social-network replace television in the heart of the masses? Let's start digging…
[Update: fixed a couple of typos and the structure of the next to last paragraph]