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Freeing the Social Identity Agent 05/10/2010

Posted by Paul Daigle in Identity, Social Graph, Social Identity, Social Media, Uncategorized.
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“And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson. Because of you, I’m no longer an Agent of this system. Because of you, I’ve changed. I’m unplugged. A new man, so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.”

With the rapid advancements in real-time communications we’re experiencing through today’s social networking platforms, messaging systems and mobile communication devices, it’s striking how few real gains we’ve made in managing real life and identity across platforms.

The trouble with identity is the more we consolidate it, the more functional we make it, the more sensitive it becomes. This may be why so many of us treat identity as real-time construct, instead of as a long term asset. Yet the idea of consolidating life and identity management is very attractive to the mainstream user, which is helping to fuel Facebook’s rapid growth. But Facebook wasn’t designed to serve identity in a meaningful or user-driven way. Platforms like Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter are, at their core, innovations that bring an email framework into the cloud to produce network effects through activity streaming. Our relationships and networks on these sites have little to no semantic integrity, as they were built by us to serve an experience, and not to serve our cross-platform lives and identities. Facebook will continue working to advance its offerings and value propositions towards the benefits of authenticated identity and the semantic web. These have become the obvious next steps for advancing communication platform functionality and connectivity, so any activity in these areas works to keep competitors and users believing in a FaceBook lead. But for users, managing real-time identity through multiple ID providers, mobile devices and pseudo-semantic social platforms will continue to create a lot of instability, fragmentation and insecurity.  It will also make managing relationships, data and identities for the long-haul very daunting. Until semantic identity is addressed and activated in a more “real” way we will continue to experience a volatile “real-time” social paradigm that delivers very little in “long-term” social value.

Even if a workable framework for managed ID existed today, who would users trust to carry their real lives and data across platforms? Browsers, social networks, social apps and communication devices will come and go as technology matures. Yet the relationship-based cultivation of identity is a lifelong process. Fusing aspects of managed-identity into email systems, web-browsers, computer security suites, blogging tools and social networks will only increase complexity, fragmentation and exposure over time. Our identities can’t realize their true potential until they serve as the underlying platform connecting our preferred tools, apps and devices of the moment. Extricating identity from these ancillary technologies should be our primary goal. Kim Cameron of Microsoft published a very concise and easily digestible outline of this important problem in his Laws of Identity back in 2006, and that document is still a great introduction to today’s identity challenges.

So what is the right long-term solution? I believe we need life-based identity systems geared specifically toward consolidating activity, data and relationship management. We’ve already seen some movement and innovation in this space with Social Activity Aggregators, Identity Selectors and ActivityStreams, but a new more robust class of social ID meta-system is needed; one which can act more as a Social Identity Agent than a traditional social data manager.

What is a Social ID Agent?

Identity: The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.

Agent: An instrument by which a guiding intelligence achieves a result.

Today we customize and manage our presence based on the platforms where our identities reside. An Identity Agent would customize our identity across platforms base on our authenticated relationships to users and service providers. The ID Agent would act both as our identity protector and syndicator, allowing any party to find us via any platform with unfettered access to the data and communication channels that we want to share. Our ID Agent would authenticate our connection or lack of connection with an accessing agent, and provide access to real-time activities and social history based on the authenticated connection. The Identity Agent would place us everywhere at once with a customized presence, keeping every relationship connected to our appropriate real time activities and social histories, while letting us adapt these relationships overtime. Our Social ID Agent would ensure the same reliable level of connectivity, even with social relationships who choose completely different sets of communication tools,  platforms and devices.

With Social ID Agents, our data, relationships, and activities could connect semantically from across platforms, as we become identified and known not by static profiles, but by our shared interactions, collaborations, events and living histories. The Social ID Agent can turn today’s web-of-platforms into tomorrow’s web-of-people.

So how do we free our Social Identity Agents? Three words. Authenticate. Activate. Connect.

Stay tuned.


The quest for a reliable Internet business model 06/07/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Social Identity, Social Media, Uncategorized.
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roundsquarehammerIn March of 1998 I joined online advertising leader DoubleClick, and spent my very first week of employment at our company sales conference in Scottsdale Arizona. The company had just gone public and the first dot com gold rush was well underway. On that first morning I got my introduction to the company CEO and VP of Sales, Kevin O’Connor and Wenda Harris Milliard. The room was filled with bright, attentive DoubleClick employees, mostly from the media sales division, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. I’d worked with many smart people over the years, but I’d never seen an organization exude this mix of passion, intelligence, ambition and confidence.

That morning I heard what the future would hold for me and my new colleagues. The future of business and personal communication would be written online. This we all knew.  DoubleClick would power this future by facilitating the one reliable  business model that had fueled the success of every other mass media channel… advertising. The Internet’s capacity for 2-way communication would deliver a Holy Grail for advertisers. DoubleClick’s technology platform would serve the right ads to the right users at the right time. Our mission: to make advertising work online. Our goal:  world domination. We would all play a role in changing the world forever.  So began a ride that would take me through the web’s first wave… ending years later with mass layoffs, an end to DoubleClick’s role in the sale of Internet media, and the company’s eventual acquisition by Google.

Today, eleven years later, the the future that Kevin and Wenda described that morning has yet to arrive. Why DoubleClick failed in its mission is a long, complex saga, filled with faulty assumptions, miscalculations, PR missteps, consumer misconceptions, and an eventual Industry wide loss of confidence in Web1.0.  The journey from irrational exuberance to irrational despair that characterized 1997-2002 is in many ways still being felt, and in some ways relived, in the Internet of 2009. The web still feels like a place of unfulfilled promises and unrealized potential.  A business model that can reliably fuel this now essential, mass communication platform has yet to arrive.

This reality has fueled many new ideas about the future of business, marketing and communication.  Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Charlene Li’s Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and Thomas H. Davenport  & John C. Beck’s The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business each stab at the beast from different angles and with different swords.  A common thread within all three perspectives is the realization that consumers are now in the driver’s seat. Value, relevance, customization and two-way relationships are how tomorrow’s companies will win.  Funny, as it was consumer fears and pressure around privacy that destroyed DoubleClick’s ability to execute on its ambitious plan to bring true consumer targeting to online advertising. Winning now requires that we win the hearts and minds of consumers. The DoubleClick story shows how even B2B companies can find it difficult to survive if they fail to bring consumers along for the ride. The game is no longer about just selling products or services.  Instead, the game is about cultivating deep relationships and building strong brand reputations through the creation of unique value, customized experiences and a culture of openness.

The Internet has become a 24/7 gauge for social reputation. Keeping consumers close and engaged and acting both responsibly and responsively is how brands are successfully  managing their reputations and relationships, especially during difficult times. Twitter, a company that has succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of  users, was able to navigate months of scaling issues and hundreds of disruptions in service without harm to it’s reputation. The iconic Fail Whale is an example of the amazing things a company can accomplish when they take consumers along for the ride.

Where are the business models capable of fueling the web’s future likely to be found?  What tools will become essential for managing social reputation and consumer loyalty? I believe the best hope for serving customers and maximizing revenues may lie with OpenID. Open social technology will help companies  build brands, services, media and experiences that both reflect and custom-serve the consumer. OpenID can help brands strengthen their relationships by maximizing user experiences, relevance, functionality and value… the keys to winning in a consumer driven world.