The Facebook username landgrab created a flurry of excitement over the weekend. Individuals 'claimed' their piece of network real estate in the form of a Facebook URL, and organizations had an opportunity to protect registered marks. I am now

http://www.facebook.com/lorcand

which chimes with my recently established Twitter presence

http://www.twitter.com/lorcand

I decided to consolidate on lorcand a little while ago, when I switched from the more opaque lisld on Twitter. Of course, this was late in my online life, meaning that - as most others do - I have a fractured online identity: it is pretty decentralized. I feel that I ought to more actively adopt some centering strategies (see below) but it never gets to the top of the list.

I am prompted by this experience to incorporate here a post of last year - centering the decentralised identity - which is still relevant ...

Andy Powell, network resident, has an interesting post about his 'fractured' network identity. How does he define identity?

"Digital identity is the online representation of an individual within a community, as adopted by that individual and/or projected by others. An individual may have multiple digital identities in multiple communities." [Andy Powell, eFoundations]

He describes how his digital identity is 'fractured' across many environments (FaceBook, Flickr, various home pages and blogs, Second Life, twitter, etc). Various professional or personal affiliations are explicitly visible in several 'friendspaces' (my word), on FaceBook and Twitter for example. Andy even confesses to an 'identity crisis' around his second life identity, Art Fossett.

I also have something of an identity crisis around Art Fossett - specifically concerning how closely the digital identities of Andy Powell and Art Fossett should be related. [eFoundations: define:digital identity]

Reading the entry, it seemed to me that Andy is talking about 'centering' this 'decentralized identity' in various ways: he talks about wanting to 'consolidate' his network presence.

(John Breslin schematically represents decentralized identity in a blog entry of some time ago.)

There are various centering or consolidating strategies ...

Andy talks about limiting the number of 'handles' his identity has - email addresses and user names, although he is not in a position where his personal identities can override his current work identity (at Eduserv).

He is working to center his network presence at http://andypowe11.net/ and has some interesting comments about steps taken or to be taken. These include the suggestion that his former place of work put redirects from historically superseded network presences to his current one so that he can capture their 'Google juice', which raises interesting questions about our view of the historical record on the web.

He also has some advice about the use of third party services, about control of domain names, and about where you build up 'google juice' as moving it may be outside of your control.

Several things struck me reading this post ...

  • Andy's concerns here are probably in advance of most people's, but it seems clear that managing our network presences and the relationships between them is becoming of more interest. And this cuts across previous boundaries - between work, family and friends, for example - in different ways.
  • My network identity is less decentralized than Andy's: overall, I am less residential ;-) Until recently, I would have seen this 'fracture' as simply a part of an ongoing transition into new ways of doing things. And I wouldn't have had the patience or the inclination to adopt various centering strategies. That said, I have been more conscious recently of where I want my network presence to be 'signed' and where I don't. To take an example close to home, I wrote some longish reviews on items in Worldcat; recently, I realised that I would like the system to be able to support in some way my assertion that I was their author, and now it does by linking to a profile page. I have tended to use lisld as a handle in a variety of places. Now, I would probably more consistently use something like LorcanDempsey where I was more concerned about 'signature', although I am quite attached to lisld ;-)
  • Of course, Google is a strong bottom-up centering service (see Tony Hirst's interesting suggestion that an institution's de facto home page is the first page of Google results in a search for that institution). My first-page Google results tend to be dominated by this blog, but there are also current and previous work pages, some articles come and go, and more recently Wikipedia and Facebook make a showing. None of these is at a domain name controlled by me. This blog was established as an internal OCLC communications tool for a year before it was externalised so it is 'located' at OCLC (in several ways). Now, I am sure that it gets a ranking 'lift' from the OCLC domain name, but it also means that I cannot bring it with me as it now stands if I ever leave. In a sense, I lose some of that network capital. Of course this is quite reasonable from another view, but it does raise interestingly the balance between individual and institution.
  • My name is not unique. However, it is not very common. Andy notes his 'Google nemesis', Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash. It would be interesting to know more about what the impact of findability in Google has been on the naming of children.
  • Now, I know that there are various initiatives underway which may make our identities more portable. I assume - hope - that we will end up with the ability to port our identities flexibly, but that we also retain the ability to support decentralised identities which may not know very much, or anything, about each other ;-)

[Original post: centering the decentralized identity]

Comments: 10

Jun 15, 2009
Lukas Koster

Ever thought of creating your own FOAF file? http://www.foaf-project.org/

Jun 15, 2009
Jonathan Rochkind

A contrasting theme might be times when some people WANT to keep their identity split in several parts, but the increasingly searchable and interconnected internet makes that difficult.

Several people who work in academia have told me (and I feel to some extent myself) that they have trouble with facebook precisely because it brings together their work colleagues and non-work friends in one community/identity they'd prefer to keep seperated. And, from a different end, I've heard of students being in fact disconcerted to find professors and librarians on facebook, because facebook is for social life, not school. And, likewise, I've heard from professor friends that they don't like it when their students contact them on facebook, because the professors view facebook as for social life not work too!

Jun 16, 2009
Joy Palmer

Could not agree more about the final point, and the followup points by John R above. What kind of flexibility would allow for this desire for multiplicity? Fascinating stuff -- I've actually posted a response at the above.

Jun 16, 2009
Lorcan Dempsey

Joy's post is at:

http://joypalmer.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/identity-management-multiplicity-and-the-joys-of-decentredness/

Jun 17, 2009
kylepainter

I recently had a discussion with friends, one whose daughter was recently born and one who is getting married soon, about naming children and carving out virtual real estate for them. The new father, a computer programmer who has quite a common name, said that finding a rare-ish name to give his newborn daughter was a priority precisely because he shares his with so many others. My soon-to-be-wed friend is already thinking about finding unique names for children, and is considering reserving facebook and gmail accounts in their names before they are even conceived (an odd strategy considering that it's not guaranteed that google or facebook will exist as the dominant form, or even exist at all, when these children grow old enough to care about this).

Jun 17, 2009
Peter Burnhill

You might want to have a browse through this.

http://www.amazon.com/Presentation-Self-Everyday-Life/dp/0385094027

Important in its day, and maybe now.

Peter

ps I'm at OAI6 - hearing (once again) about PLANETS and OAIS

Jun 17, 2009
Lorcan Dempsey

Peter, you may have seen Giddens select it as his contribution to a discussion of the canon.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=406223

Jun 17, 2009
Lorcan Dempsey

kylepainter, Maybe people should be required to give their children unique names ;-) Our children's names are Eoghan and Eavan, uncommon outside Ireland, but even in conjunction with Dempsey they are not unique.

Jun 17, 2009
Lorcan Dempsey

Lukas, I am a simple creature ;-) who always takes the shortest path ....

Jun 19, 2009
Peter

Lorcan,

Know I hadn't see the Giddens entry, nor in fact the THES piece - I would endorse the Kant entry btw.

Goffman was at Edinburgh when he wrote that and altho I was not there at the time, my arrival to Edinburgh was with centre for educationl sociology and the book was a read.

So too was Giddens who was making his splash at the time usefully summarising some emerging social theory

was at OAI6 this week and there was a session on ResearcherIDs and equivalent.

hope all well with you