In about an hour I will be up on stage at the Symposium on Social Architecture talking about the future of business and social software. In a way I am a perfect example of how these new tools have shaped a work life. I have had limited experience working in offices – those I did work in were tiny dysfunctional nonprofits. I got into social software to address the challenges these organizations have supporting their members staying connected after they met in person. Researching what I needed to know to build tools for my community I read the Augmented Social Network: Building Trust and Identity into the Next Generation Internet. It was hugely influential on my thinking and totally inspired me. I have been working since reading it to share its ideas and work for its manifestation.
I have been working “virtually” for three years using social software tools – basically via e-mail, wiki’s, conference calls, in person meetings and showing up at events/conferences. Both on behalf of Planetwork and as Identity Woman working for the ecology of folks using eXtensible Resource Identifiers [XRI] (i-names) and and XRI Data Interchange [XDI] to really build the Augmented Social Network.
The ASN paper has a focus on civil society uses of the internet. The principles of user controlled identity are at its core and have implications for business and how trusted deep relationships between buyers and sellers, costumers and companies can open up new opportunities. Here are some critical excerpts
Four main elements of ASNPersistent Identity
Enabling individuals online to maintain a persistent identity as they move between different Internet communities, and to have personal control over that identity. This identity should be multifarious and ambiguous (as identity is in life itself), capable of reflecting an endless variety of interests, needs, desires, and relationships. It should not be reduced to a recitation of our purchase preferences, since who we are can not be reduced to what we buy.
Interoperability Between Online Communities
People should be able to cross easily between online communities under narrowly defined circumstances, just as in life we can move from one social network to another. Protocols and standards need to be developed and adopted to enable this interoperability. This interoperability should include the ability to identify and contact others with shared affinities or complementary capabilities, and to share digital media with them, enabling valuable information to pass from one online community to the next in an efficient manner. To support ASN-type activity, modularized enhancements to the technical infrastructures of separate online communities will need to be developed and adopted.
Using databased information, online brokers (both automated and “live”) should be able to facilitate the introduction between people who share affinities and/or complementary capabilities and are seeking to make connections. In this manner, the proverbial “six degrees of separation” can be collapsed to one, two or three degrees â€” in a way that is both effective and that respects privacy. Such a system of brokered relationships should also enable people to find information or media that is of interest to them, through the recommendations of trusted third parties.
Public Interest Matching Technologies
The Semantic Web is perhaps the best known effort to create a global “dictionary” of shared terms to facilitate finding information online that is of interest to you. Within the ASN, a public interest initiative around matching technologies, including ontologies and taxonomies, will enable you to find other people with whom you share affinities â€” no matter which online communities they belong to. These matching technologies need to be broad and robust enough to include the full range of political discussion about issues of public interest. They should not be confined to commercial or narrowly academic topics; NGOs and other public interest entities need to be represented in the process that determines these matching technologies.
Building your online identity
Underlying this report is the assumption that every individual ought to have the right to control his or her own online identity. You should be able to decide what information about yourself is collected as part of your digital profile, and of that information, who has access to different aspects of it. Certainly, you should be able to read the complete contents of your own digital profile at any time. An online identity should be maintained as a capability that gives the user many forms of control. Without flexible access and control, trust in the system of federated network identity will be minimal.
To date, online identity is treated the same way as an individualâ€™s credit history â€” as information that exists as a result of commercial transactions, and so is the proprietary data of the company that captures it. These companies then have the legal right to do with this data as they see fit, including making it available to massive databases that centralize this information for resale. At the same time, your rights as a citizen to access and effect this same information are limited â€” as anyone who has ever had to sort out errors in his official credit history can attest.
A digital profile is not treated as the formal extension of the person it represents. But if this crucial data about you is not owned by you, what right do you have to manage its use? At the moment, it seems, this right would have to be granted by the corporations that have captured your data for their own purposes. They may perhaps choose to give you a measure of control over what they do with it. But as long it is their choice to grant you control, rather than your right as a citizen to assert control, the potential for abuse is of grave concern. Just as overly burdensome intellectual property laws threaten to dampen innovation on the Internet, as Lawrence Lessig has described, legacy twentieth century laws regarding proprietary information about “customers” could undermine efforts to create a civil society-oriented persistent identity. This could, in turn, strictly limit the forms of trusted relationships that might take place online.
The digital profiles that Internet stores like Amazon have developed of their customers follow a common pattern. Have you ever seen the information about your sales history that Amazon bases its personal recommendations on? Not to suggest that Amazon is a nefarious organization, or that it uses what it learns about customers in an improper way. But you cannot gain access to your Amazon profile, even if you wanted to. Nor do you even have the right to ask for it. Today, for most people, this does not pose a problem. Most of us are glad to get Amazonâ€™s recommendations (sometimes they are even useful). But a decade hence, as the tools for creating online profiles become far more sophisticated, and stores like Amazon cross-reference their proprietary customer information with that of thousands of other companies, we will be in a very different territory.
Letâ€™s take a moment to consider the ways that data about you can be gathered and entered into a digital profile. There are basically three:
First, as with the Amazon example, your online decisions can be traced, entered into a database, and interpreted according to a pre-determined algorithm. This form of automated information gathering, by compiling a database of significant actions, is the most unobtrusive way to build a profile. At the same time, you â€” the profile subject â€” may be unaware that your actions are being followed and interpreted in this way. It is important that ethical standards are established so that you know when your behavior is being tracked, and when it isnâ€™t. Moreover, you should be aware who is tracking your behavior, and what they will do with that information. Most importantly, you should always be given the option to not have your behavior tracked â€” this option should be a fundamental right in a free society. By tracked we mean the recording and retention of activity that is retained beyond a certain time limit, transferred to others, and/or retained for future use.
Secondly, you can deliberately enter information about yourself into a digital profile. For example, some online communities have complex registration forms that each new member must fill out in order to participate. Once a member makes clear that she prefers Bob Dylan and Tom Waits to Nâ€™Synch and Britiney Spears, she is then led into an online discussion area with others who expressed similar interests. The advantage to profiles compiled like this is that you know exactly what you have chosen to express about yourself, and what you have not. The downside, however, is that filling out forms is cumbersome; most of us prefer to avoid doing it.
The third method is perhaps the most traditional form of information gathering, and least preferred: Having others report on your actions without your knowledge. Depending on who controls your digital profile, and how it is used, this method might play a minimal role in federated network identity, or it might be central to it. The more control each individual has over his or her own profile, however, the less likely it is that undesirable or unnecessary reports by others will be a key element. A user should have some ability to determine under what circumstances other peopleâ€™s opinions about his actions might precede him when he enters new situations.
Again, ethical standards need to be agreed to that protect citizens against abuses of this kind, which the technology could easily facilitate.
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