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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.

Putting technolgy back “inside” the box 08/21/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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You may have seen this (hilarious) video parody of what an iPod’s 2005 packaging might have looked like had it come from Microsoft. It explores in deadpan accuracy the kind of insulated thinking that keeps many technology companies from producing products and messages that connect with average people.

I find this topic interesting and timely because I often see today’s Web2.0 Cloud as a space where engineering paradigms and tech laden worldviews fuel industry marketing, product design and messaging.

The social web has produced vibrant social ecosystems for youth culture and tech enthusiasts. This is both good and important as early adopters help new technologies find their footing, and lead mainstream majorities to new value propositions. The growing expanse of tire kicking, test driving, puddle jumping and outright pioneering going on in Silicon City, the new city in the Cloud, is one of the most exciting human developments we’ve seen in years.

As we’ve watched new communication channels come to life we have also witnessed the emergence of a powerful social collective consciousness or hive-mind that I’ll call the new Social Tech Society. This prodigious and loosely tied community of social scientist, marketers, developers, entrepreneurs, cyborg anthropologist and influencers wrestle the daily streams of micro-innovation, advanced usage and data feeds to uncover new developments that can make networks flock, bloggers speculate and activities trend, fueling a network fetishism for technical innovation and social evolution. New apps, platforms, methodologies and memes are discovered, evaluated, documented and assimilates or dismisses at a rapid pace .

Is the work of the Social Tech Society widening the chasm between important new value propositions and Main St? Mass consumer success requires products and services that connect with the needs and desires of average people. This occurs when companies successfully package features, functionality and value around simple propositions like solving everyday problems and enhancing quality-of-life. The Social Tech Society is apparently convinced that today’s tech enthusiast ecosystem will one day become the mainstream. Geek is the new chic.  But the seductiveness of combing for watershed moments within the Cloud keeps focus on the outer edges of advancement, which leads to uncertainty, unreliability and diversion. Being an instrument of change, the Social Tech Society is not built for packaging proven features, functionality and value around reliable and well-defined value propositions.

Meanwhile, people who aren’t enamored by tech as tech want to understand what Silicon City is about?  What does it do? Why do we need it? What problems does it solve. How will it improve life? Companies that can develop products that answer these questions for the mass market will harness the true value of the network and the Cloud. Though the Social Tech Society may delay the inevitable, new technologies will eventually connect Main St., Geeks St. and the hive-mind to a truly unified social grid.

If the social web were the telephone, I think we can say that we’ve reached a point where the telephone has become widely embraced by a growing network of wired audio communication enthusiast.  But these participants currently define the network. Until those who care nothing about communication technologies or their effects on the evolution of the human species pick up the telephone and start talking, Silicon City will remain a land known mostly for it’s free flowing innovation and technophile pursuits.

The real value of the social web will be found in the network effect produced by a mass consumer market embracing the cloud for daily interactions. We’re not far from that moment, but we need to improve our ability to develop for and speak to average people. We need to put  technology back inside the box.