In several speeches this year I've been discussing the concept of digital identity, trying to come up with a framework for the multiple digital personas that are increasingly shadowing our real-life persona.
The overall idea is that our Internet usage leaves footprints: the content we create, the profiles we publish, the comments we leave, the pictures we share, the participation in social networks, the eBay auctioning, the stuff other people write on their blogs about us, and so on. Some of these footprints, we do control: what's up on my website, for example, and partially (with the exception of your comments) what appears on this blog, or my Xing profile. The "personas" that come across when you access these pages are pretty much what I want them to be. But, increasingly, footprints appear on the digital sands over which we don't exercise any control: people blog about you, take and publish pictures, and if someone searches for your name in Google or GoogleBlogsearch or Clusty or IceRocket or Technorati, up comes whatever comes, and that's also defining your digital identity - each one of those search results composes one of your digital personas, giving information and hints about what you do, your character, your opinions, your network, in short, who you are. And there are more: just think of Second Life avatars.
Fred Cavazza in Paris has developed an interesting framework for mapping our digital identity (or, rather, identities) (his post is in French). He makes a distinction between "formal" (profiles, certificates) and "informal" (comments, photos, etc) footprints, and says that their sum amounts to our "digital DNA". He has put together a map of the places where we do leave those footprints:
Here is how he describes them:
- Personal details: all the digital channels that allow to contact a person (e-mail, IM, Skype, phone), to identify (FOAF or hCard) or to localize (IP address) him/her;
- Certificates that are delivered by organizations (Certinomis, Thawte), services (OpenID, ClaimID, Naimz) or automatically (CardSpace) to identify a user;
- Content published through expression tools, that give a voice to people: blogs, podcasts, citizen journalism portals (Agoravox, Wikio) etc;
- Content shared through publication tools: photos (FlickR), videos (YouTube, Dailymotion), music (Radio.blog.Club) or links (del.icio.us);
- Opinions about products (U.lik, CrowdStorm, iNods), services, (TravelPost) or information (Digg);
- Hobbies, passions shared through niche social networks (Boompa for car fans, Cork'd for wine lovers, BakeSpace for cooking, etc);
- Purchases through meta-sellers (such as Amazon or eBay), payment systems (Paypal or Google Checkout) or loyalty and rewards programs (S'Miles or Maximiles) that let the purchase habits of users be tracked and modelized;
- Knowledge distributed through Wikipedia, collaborative platforms (Yahoo! Answers or Google Answers) or open-source sites (Instructables);
- Portals (Monster, WetFeet) and social networks (LinkedIn, Xing) used for professional purposes;
- Services that track a person's notoriety (Technorati, Cymfony), his/her credibility (Biz360) and his/her reputation (RapLeaf, iKarma, ReputationDefender);
- Sites for meeting people (Meetic, Friendster) and federating them around homogeneous audiences (MySpace, MyBlogLog);
- Online games (World of Warcraft, Everquest), synthetic worlds (SecondLife, There, Habbo Hotel) and online sites (SitePal, Gravatar) experienced through avatars.
The list has at least three weaknesses:
- in a world of hybrids, categorization is an impossible task; many of the examples above could actually be put in two different boxes in Fred's map (MySpace, for example, is about who you know, but also about expression; Wikipedia is both about knowledge and about sharing; etc)
- the list takes into account only the footprints that we leave online, intentionally or not, but not the information that others create about us.
- services like Skype are not taken into account, nor location sites such as Plazes or Frappr, and more.
But obviously it's a work in progress, and it is the best attempt at a synthesis that I've seen so far.