To prepare to talk with Susan Crawford I thought I would scan her three year old blog for any menitons of Identity. It turns out that Susan has done some extensive thought about identity and in particular in the context of online gaming. She has a link to a paper – Who’s in Charge of Who I am?: Identity and the Law Online. Here are some good quotes…
Online identities are emergent. Identity is by definition a group project, something created by the context in which the identified operates.
Online walled gardens will be come more prevalent, as concerns about security, viruses, spam and the unknown increase, as valuable content is made accessible only to those who have been permissioned to see it, and as hardware and software systems made available to the masses increasingly taken on “trusted” aspects. Online games are precursors of these future more serious, walled garden online worlds. Key characteristics of both games and walled worlds are limited access, clear boundaries, rules, roles/players, and feedback mechanisms that create reputation. … These characteristics of games make them ideal laboratories for experimentation with rulesets.
This is a great mention of the word – rulesets. I have been thinking a lot about them ever since I read Thomas Barnett’s book – The Pentagon’s New Map. How we as a society and how institutions that govern us determine what the ruleset’s are is important to think about. With the complexifying world we live in – robust, legitimate and fair systems to create good rulesets are needed. This is particularly true in the online space that is really built by and for us. I hope that all the effort that has gone into creating the Identity Commons structure can be just such a place.
Back to Susan…
Who owns identity? who owns reputation? From the intermediary’s perspective, software creates rules that control what social context can be moved elsewhere. Your identity is “really” a database entry, and the intermediary can argue that your identity is their intellectual property, not yours. You may attach great importance to it, but this identity (and its reputation) will not as a practical matter survive outside the world in which it was formed. Walled world designers have incentives to raise switching costs and capture all the vale of this reputation. In other words, controllers of online worlds are gods. But users may defect from environments and attempt to constrain them in how persistent their reputations and identities are. The difficult task for developers/intermediaries is how much freedom to give their users. This takes us from the realm of risks to the realm of opportunities.
AS real work becomes a more common online activity, identity created in connection with groups will be more and more meaningful.
Human nature will always tend toward group-ness.
- What would be made visisble? The fact that someone’s identity has been taken away, and the reasons why? Or speech-related actions of the intermediary that have an impact on identity (but are less then “disappearing” someone?)
- What about reputation? Is it right that a user must leave her reputation behind when she leaves a particular online world? Is “reputation portability” possible? Or is reputation so context-dependent that the online world should be permitted to own it? And what does the online world own exactly? A group-created construct?
- Is this entire problem avoided by staying out of “walled gardens” and maintaining our own domains? Will this be possible, as online worlds become more and more attractive, and as hardware and software increasingly intertwine?
In the end, it boils down to the fact that the best government is the one that you can trust, which will be the one you know personally: the people close to you in your virtual community, who are held accountable precisely because of community ties. Your best government is going to be each other, because the man behind the curtain isn’t going to know any more than you know him.
We are still in the early stages of the first two steps dealing with any technology: fear and opportunism. Enlightenment is not far away. I want to suggest that we skip quickly through the fear, linger on the opportunism, and move on to human betterment. This social benefit may come (as so many things do) from playfulness. Games have a great deal to teach us about how we establish and maintain identity. Now we need to consider who is in charge of these identities. It may be, in the end, that we are.
We need to forge a direct link between how we live and work online (especially within walled gardens) and how we structure control over online resources. If the new mode of work online is collaborative peer-production of resources, who will own a shared online space of identities? This ownership may have to be collective. The fundamental problem that is yet to be address is that while reputations and identities are group projects, legal ownership of collectively-created intangible identities currently appears to reside (by default) in online intermediaries. We may need to make some noise about this and ensure a better fit. Perhaps the game should belong to the players.
She raises some interesting questions for us to think about. I think looking at the governance and how to actualize that – this is what the distributed governance form of Identity Commons is designed to do. I didn’t really realize that she was involved with XNSORG several years back. She really liked you all and mentioned Bill Washburn and Drummond Reed by name.
While talking with her about identity and her paper she mentioned her connection to the State of Play conferences. The third one is coming up this fall and is entightled Social Revolution. Two panels look very relevant:
- Collective Action in the Metaverse: Groups, Community and Power
- Identity in the Metaverse: On-Line Identity in Virtual Worlds
It is the day after Web 2.0 but might be worth the trip 🙂