Bizarro identity

I’m still trying to get my head around Facebook’s moves to become the king of identity online. Hell, if Leo Laporte couldn’t quite figure it out on yesterday’s taping of This Week in Google, then I’m not capable. But here’s where I am. Help me advance this….

I think my problem is this: I want the exact opposite of what Facebook did. I want the Bizarro Facebook. Instead of Facebook controlling my identity, I want to be able to control and publish and set access to and rules for the use of my identity online, allowing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, anyone access to it under my terms.

When I tweeted that, ad man Rishad Tobaccowala tweeted: “you are right. What we want closed (our data) they want open. What we want open (create and transfer) they want closed.” He then added: “When it is so easy to “like” is it really like? A profusion of “liking” will soon be like… Noise.” Agree.

My identity already exists online. It is my name, my email address(s), my URL(s) (for my blog, work, etc.), my Twitter account, my Flickr, my YouTube, my reputation culled from various services, and more. It is distributed. I have control over most of that.

What’s needed versus the present? Three things, I think:
* Organization. As Google organized our information, the war here is to organize us.
* Verification. No one, I hope, wants to verify as passports do. But Facebook has a leg ahead of everyone else on nearly verified identity simply because of how its service works: fake identities tend to be ejected from the bloodstream because they are irrelevant and irritating; Facebook is about real identities and real relationships and the one feeds the other.
* Connections. That, I think, is what Mark Zuckerberg means when he talks about making things social, about the social graph. He wants to link us to each other and information and that enhances our identities (what do I like and do and think….).

Fine. But I don’t think Facebook approached that opportunity asking first, “What can we do for the world of users online,” and second, “How can Facebook benefit?” If Facebook adds value, I have no objection to it benefiting, just as I believe Google should benefit by organizing our information and creating platforms; it’s what makes that benefit sustainable. But Facebook clearly asked the questions in the wrong order: It figured out what would benefit it most and then we get a few dividends: we get to tell our friends what we like and find out what our friends like.

But in the process, Facebook controls our identities with no relationship to our true identities online — that list above from email addresses to blogs to photos. Indeed, I’d argue that Facebook separates us from our true identities, for that is in Facebook’s favor; it gives Facebook control.

Far better and more experienced minds than mine are trying to get their heads around this. Dave Winer likes the idea of liking but also won’t put all his eggs into Zuck’s basket and so he suggests:

So perhaps there’s a compromise? Let me implement my own Like feature and have it connect up to Facebook through a feed. And let it connect up to Facebook’s competitors just as easily. I’m sure the smart guys at Facebook could figure out how to do this, perhaps they already have? I’m willing to do a little extra work to keep the web independent of any one company.

Right. Don’t all the identity standards and structures already exist openly. This is what irked Kevin Marks, who has done a great deal of work on identity, much of it while he was at Google. When he complained about this false openness last night, I said and he retweeted, “Open Graph is open as in ‘open your underwear drawer.’”

But as Swom_Network tweeted as I was tweeting about all this today, “Yep. but who is to do it?”

That’s really the question. Openness and standards are wonderful but if they don’t add up to applications that accomplish things, then we only open the door for companies to step in and seize the opportunity. Perhaps that’s inevitable. And I can live with that.

But we, the people, aren’t going to build these new applications and systems then we at least need to hold those who do to a set of principles, which means we need to have a set of principles to point to (and I’ll point to mine again).

Facebook’s Open Graph, I think, does not give us full control over our data and identities; it is not built to open standards; if it were, I’d be able to do what I want to do because others could build competing applications atop those standards. Then I’d be able to publish my identity on my own or through Facebook or through Acme ID Inc. and anyone could come along and verify my identity and publish that and developers would be able to come along and offer services based on that identity. But that works only if it is built to standards and principles, if it’s distributed and open. Open Graph is not.

As Dave Winer also says in his post, this is about more than identifying us. This structure leads to identifying places, sites, data, information. We will add a tremendously valuable layer of data atop the world — what we look at, what we like, what our friends like…. That is the wisdom of the crowd. Who owns that wisdom? No one but us. If you add value to it, you can extract that value (that’s what search engines do). But if you own the crowd’s wisdom then isn’t the crowd screwed?

Or that’s what I think I think. What do you think?

: MOMENTS LATER: As soon as I tweeted this, I saw that Rick Klau, a good guy at Google, is the new PM on Google Profiles and he suggested talking about it. I’ll think out loud first:

Google could build the open system I hope for … could. It has profile. It has the stuff around ID Kevin Marks showed me when I visited the company. It has lots of knowledge about our distributed identities.

What it doesn’t have is that close link to an almost verified identity. Sure, I can go and build a Google Profile page. But the problem with that is that it doesn’t really interact with the world the way my Facebook page does, so it lacks the opportunities for verification through relationships, right?

What could Google do about that? It could create a value-added service to verify identities (as Twitter has begun to do with the famous) but we’d find value in that only if others used it to some good end: if we could use it to publish comments on sites or make transactions. Is that enough?

Maybe Google can create the algorithmic authority (and identity) Clay Shirky dreams of: rather than verifying manually, it gives our identities a score and that increases our value in other transactions.

I still don’t know what to think.

  • SuSaw

    Is it wisdom of the crowd or wisdom for the advertisers? as in, users say what they “like” and ads can be matched to reflect the users likes. And then, maybe the users click through, maybe there’s a revenue stream and then? While facebook says it won’t share personal data, am I correct in understanding that they will share collective information or “wisdom?” What do you think?

  • http://www.twitter.com/scottasher Scott Asher

    I think the concept that Facebook got it “exactly backwards” is absolutely correct.

    What we want: we control who gets to see what about us.
    What we want: everyone (in a totally open fashion) gets to see the results of the interactions between objects (e.g. in aggregate people who like snowboarding also like Vail, Colorado).

    What FB is giving us: FB controls who gets to see what they want about us. Yes, we get control, but in an opt-out fashion.
    What FB is giving us: FB “owns” interactions between objects.

    However, SOMEONE has to be storing this interactive data. It’s not clear to me that anyone has given an alternative solution — where should the complete feed of what I do, like, etc. be stored?

    • http://www.twitter.com/scottasher Scott Asher

      I should be clear — I’ve read Dave Winer’s posts and also seen the OpenLike stuff. I’m still unsure I like the concept of OpenLike (i.e. distributed ownership among all of the “stream” services — whichever ones I choose.).

  • http://twitter.com/woolf2k woolf2k

    I’m glad I’m not the only one getting the hibbie-gibbies about this news…However, I feel torn cause I’m a dev so I see the potential it can bring to sites; however, at the same time I’m a user of FB and it just feels not quit right…

  • Troy Hostetler

    Jeff I love how you challange the old to the new. I wish you
    were a bit more upbeat and belive the web always connecteted world. It’s all good. The law can only be chanced by the will of the people. The web is really not a free place to
    most of the people of the world and perhaps what the web is in the US. That only means times are changed. Every ones life is enhanced by the web. Even if you are passive. It’s Here. I’m typing this as I sit in our local mineral baths. That we soak, swim, drink, breath in the steam and sauna water. So you can see how I’m so glad I don’t have to in front
    of computer. It’s right here wherever in the world and time. But south america the middle east India china and many otheren can’t really see the web we see. Even if you can use a VPS program but that not something the average computer useer would do. How many in the US surf on a proxy only. Prolly about the same. Thanks for your new brave cool digital wourld that is great now and can only improve and will

  • Rob K

    Jeff- I agree about Facebook and the fact that they don’t seem to get it. Craig Newmark was recently interviewed and he commented that “trust is the new black” and that trust management was the killer app. I agree with him, although I do find it ironic that Craigslist lacks virtually all trust management functionality.

  • Michael Whitehouse

    And so the era of the mediated web closes and the era of the hyper-mediated web begins.

  • http://dopeambition.com Brianne

    I think Kevin Marks’s comparison/comment about “open graph” being comparable to “opening the underwear drawer” works for this case. In the past, people (my friends, co-workers, etc) have often complained of Facebook already becoming too “personal,” although I like to think of it more as creepily invasive. I have had facebook since its inception five or six years ago, and have witnessed all of its changes, for the better and for worse (and more creepy).

    In fact, I remember when the introduction of mini-feeds caused an uproar, an everyone called it the “stalker-feed.” Now, people have grown accustomed to their minj-feeds and even like them. I guess my point is: I think the open graph application/introduction is an odd move on Facebook’s part: what is the goal here? I do believe, like you said, that they have, for the most part, succeeded in creating a social network that actually connects people’s social worlds/lives. But I am confused by the introduction of open graph and don’t understand its relevance to trying to make us more connected with who we are SUPPOSED to be connected with: each other.

    BY the way, Mr. Jarvis: I will be at CUNY’s Open House this weekend…I will be attending CUNY for Arts & Culture Reporting in the fall. Don’t know if you’ll receive this (lengthy) comment by then.

  • Tom

    I totally agree with what you are saying about Facebook. They want to own our online identity, and I don’t like that, and I don’t think many will,

    But to your other point about giving us the freedom to have our online persona be whatever we choose for it to be, Facebook can’t stop us from doing that, in my opinion. We can just choose to ignore Facebook if we choose.

    But to your other, other point, how could we integrate all of our online “identities” across the whole web? I know you like to dream of a place where social site stop being silos, and would all be perfectly integrated, but we both know that is never going to happen, because that doesn’t benefit the social sites.

    So again, it’s nice idea, but I don’t see it ever happening.

  • http://www.citrusbegin.com Peter Levitan

    As a marketer I wonder about what “Like” means. Its feels so so high school. I “like” You. I “like” Cheerios. I “like” BuzzMachine. I “Like” Portland. Where is the subtly?

    How do I really use “Like” as a definition that has some value metrics? How much do I really care about what my friends “like”? What if I am just inundated with “Likes”?

    I am sensing a whole lotta of meaningless “Likes”

  • http://www.gamechangers.com Bonifer

    Peter L, you have, like, nailed it, bro. Totally. My friends and I are, like, what does ‘like’ mean anyway? Liking is lame. When a hot girl says she likes you it means she won’t go out with you. I would rather have a hot girl say she, like, hates me, because then I, you know, because then she has at least, like, you know, thought about going out.

  • http://jenmcfadden.tumblr.com/ Jen_McFadden

    On identity verification: why doesn’t one of the organizations that does background checks create a consumer-facing version of the service. For $25/year, you can have verified that all of the information you have put up onto your profile is verified. In other words, you are presenting your true self online. Although the crowd can do this to some extent, that means that you are relying on other people to call their friends out if they are presenting a “less than true” self online–not the best mechanism for making sure things are accurate. Alternatively, LinkedIn could just build this into their profile system and people who have verified that their information is accurate get a badge that says so.

    I also like the (new?) profiles that are built into Disqus. But again, you end up with the issue of whether the information presented in the profile is verifiable.
    JHM

    • http://www.assertid.com Keith Dennis

      Jen,

      I like your idea regarding peer-verification of an individual’s profile – that is exactly what our service does. We can’t verify “all of the information you have put on your profile” (yet!), but we do provide a low-friction way to verify your self-asserted Identity Attributes. This could easily be extended to include more attributes. We happen to leverage an individuals FB social-grid to do this but we then create a credential (with a trust-score) that you can take with you.

      What we need is traction…we need user’s to take this credential an use it wherever knowing a user’s true identity matters.

      Keith

  • David UK

    Jeff,

    I agree with you 100%.

    I would like to see a not-for-profit organization where I can apply for a verified identity. With this, I would be able to sign into any website automatically, using a pseudonym username If I want, and supply that site with only the information I want to. If this can be done with existing systems like OpenID or OAuth, great. If not, there should be a totally independent organisation that will not share any of my data without my say so.

    I don’t agree with Facebook ‘owning’ the web, or any other company for that matter. This is the most important issue on the internets right now. If we don’t get this right then the free web will be lost forever.

  • http://twitter.com/timekord martin king

    Who’s going to build it – that is the crux of the problem.

    Companies will want to build to their advantage (generally) because its business.

    I’m wondering however if a Linux approach is somehow possible – distributed identity management for distributed identity.

    I’m also wondering if identity will be “with us” – in the real world – with massive pervasive bandwidth just maybe a local app might verify and manage our identity on line … Embedded apps – lets not go there.

    • David UK

      As Jeff pointed out in the talk he gave in Germany, this is all about control. If I knew and could decide what data I shared and who I shared it with, I would feel a lot more comfortable doing so, because I was in control.

      As to who would build such a system, I have to admit I haven’t thought that minor :) technical aspect through. Wishful thinking I know, but I do think that a NFP / NGO / open-source / alternative to Facebook is desperately needed. I would be happy to pay a small annual fee to know that I was still in charge of my data.

  • http://exponere.com BarneyC

    Whether or not Facebook has an approach we like, let alone the “right” approach to their OpenGraph is kind of irrelevent.

    This isn’t a fight about standards vs non-standards (they come and go, are industry led at times etc…) in my opinion.

    It’s about just another step towards the tipping point where people understand and can make quality decisions about the value trade-off between a “free” service and what they are expected to offer up in return for it.

    There is still a pervasive attitude in business that gathering, collecting, holding, mining and “owning” user data is in some way valuable to them.

    It’s a very web business mindset where company valuations were/are in no small part based on just how much user data you have/had.

    Facebook isn’t really doing anything desparately outside this model, they’ve just extended it a little further by turning their property into a market place for the exchange of that information. They are ticket clipping.

    The change will come surely enough when business starts to wise up to a more Pull orientated approach to user data, one where they build proper relationships with people and where people can ask of that business what they want and trade on fair terms. That change though is not likely to happen until enough businesses have been burnt by buying into the myth that user data is intrinsicly valuable and yet fail to create sustainable revenue.

    As for Facebook. My gut feeling is they will (unless regulated against – and I don’t personally believe regulation solves anything) continure on this path and over time evolve their marketplace to fit more with user need when users are in any way capable of managing their data better.

    And before anyone cries foul and claims to be capable of managing their own data; you reading this are not the normal Facebook user, the normal Facebook user just uses what they are given and from what I can see only pays attention when they see mainstream news coverage telling them the scare stories.

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  • http://wiresandtubes.com Joshua Kahn

    This issue has two sides in my mind
    1. Quoting previous commenters “someone has to do it” which means someone has to own it. Whether it’s Facebook, or Google, or a non-profit, “someone” will have to facilitate the connections. Trust of course will be the key factor determining whether or not that owner gets significant participation. Right now, like it or not, Facebook has the trust of the biggest number. Perhaps not the trust of developers, designers, and tech wonks of the world, who think about privacy, ownership of data from and idealist perspective. But for the rest of the 400mm plus users? Let’s be honest, they don’t know, don’t care, just give them their Farmville and mafia wars and stop talking like the peanuts teacher about high minded jibber jabber. Not perfect? Not ideal? Doesn’t fit your expectations of how the world “should” be? Sorry, “should” is a myth. Which brings me to the second side of this imho.
    2. Personal choice. Don’t participate if you don’t like it. Simple as that. That’s what Dave Winer is choosing to do, bully for him. Reading some of the reactions to this you’d think that Facebook has just kidnapped our brains and ability to choose. It hasn’t, it also hasn’t stolen our identity and trapped it in dungeon. They do allow you to opt out of this stuff, in part, or in whole. So it seems the problem is that people don’t like the default setting being what it is. MZ et al are making business decisions. That’s what businesses do. Again, whether you like it or not, they’ve got a significant user base, more than that they have a significant group of corporations giddy about the potential for their own businesses.

    I’m not opposed to idealism, even cranky idealism, let’s just not forget caveat emptor and free market forces. If this is all “evil” then it won’t last. Oh yeah, and if you think it’s evil, don’t participate.

    • David UK

      Ok, maybe I’m being a slightly paranoid-android, but given the continued growth of FaceBook, I can imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when I land on on a page, and the site tells me I need to be signed into FB to continue. So it’s all very well saying “Don’t participate if you don’t like it”, but if FB is the only game in town, then I’m f*****.

      That’s why I think it’s important that a non-corporate, non-governmental net-neutral organisation should step up and build an alternative that everyone can trust, and equally importantly, no-one owns.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        I had actually considered recommending to sites that they require FB identity to leave comments. I’m thinking better of it these days.

    • ernest

      Funny how “standards” change and people forget about things. When did opt-out become a good thing?

      http://www.spamhaus.org/faq/answers.lasso?section=Marketing%20FAQs#17

      There are studies that show the majority of people will stay with the option that doesn’t require an additional action. For instance, that’s why you often have to _uncheck_ boxes beside those “I want to receive your newsletter/ promotional material/ offers/ etc”.

      Joshua, what Facebook is doing is an equivalent of me sending you a mail that will say, “You will receive Viagra offers every month. You can opt out here…” Or, in other words, spam.

  • Pulling Back

    You’ve hit upon why I’ve pulled out of “Social Networking.” It’s not me *and* it’s a complete waste of time. The web is great for a lot of reasons but it doesn’t replace real life. The crazy interconnectedness of all of the web 2.0 nonsense is getting way too Big Brother-like.
    Privacy is priceless these days so I’m dropping out.

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  • MacBear

    I am not a member of FaceBook… don’t want to be…don’t need to be… not going to be. End of story.

  • Al

    http://buzzmachine.com/2007/07/02/facebook-is-not-the-new-aol/

    Might wanna revise this old article? ;)

    I’m w/ MacBear…I distrust Zuck too much to join his little AOL world.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Heh. Good linking.

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  • Brian

    Jeff,

    Would you be more or less worried about this if a government had control of this data?

    I bring this up because our governments already knows a lot about us. Or is that to big brother, is it better for a company to have this information? Who do we trust our identity on the web to?

    Do we want to store it ourselves and have some way of connecting our data to our friends data through each website?

    Brian

  • Marshall

    I don’t think this is aimed at people who use Twitter, flickr, YouTube AND facebook. I think hundreds of millions of people only use facebook and this is their first and entire social web experience.

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  • http://www.mercurynews.com/chris-obrien Chris O’Brien

    This is an interesting discussion, but I think in many ways, it’s besides the point.

    The issue of what we want or don’t want doesn’t really matter now. It’s largely an academic discussion. As Zuckerberg said at the keynote, Facebook has 400 million users — and it’s growth is accelerating. People have voted with their clicks, and they’re picking Facebook in swarms. They’re sharing just about everything, and becoming ever more comfortable doing so.

    Jeff, I’ve heard you talk often of the “network effect.” Well, here it is, with a vengence. No other online company, not even Google, has this kind of power now. It’s only with Facebook that something like this could be attempted. I don’t think any site could afford to no implement this functionality, given Facebook’s massive reach. Facebook will now be the nervous system of the entire Web.

    That might not be ideal from an “open Web” viewpoint. But users are also telling us that they want simplicity, and ease of use. All the things being contemplated here are too complex for most users, in the way that RSS is too much for most folks. Google typically overcomplicates things for users (see “Buzz”). Facebook is easy to use, and now it will be everywhere.

    If someone wants to build a more open system to challenge it, they’ve got to come up with a super simple design that requires little or no work by users. And they’ll have to find a way to quickly scale it to match the value I get from the network effect that makes Facebook so compelling to me. Without doing anything, every site visited this weekend was telling me what all my friends were doing there (Pandora, CNN, etc.).

    At the same time, Facebook has almost moved to the point of becoming a central utility of the Web. As such, it’s likely going to need to be regulated like a utility in terms of establishing far more powerful privacy guidelines.

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  • http://www.vlockbox.com Sanjay Maharaj

    You are correct, as the social graph expands, people will find that they want more control over their content. Many users do no like the fact that their social and professional lives collide on the net, thus the reason for more control

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  • Google vs Facebook

    What is really going on here is that someone realized that 500 million Facebook users could easily create 2 Billion new “back links” to content per day that would quickly dwarf the real back links that webmasters and bloggers produce each day – where webmasters have to painstakingly do this via HTML code.

    That would destroy Google PageRank by the end of the summer…

    Or create something more relevant than PageRank.

    Now you or I might opt-out of this as long as Facebook fails to reassure us that our websurfing will not be tracked unless we choose to “check in” at other websites by specifically clicking on a Like link.

    But most people are silly enough not to even be concerned about that (tracking without Facebook check-ins necessary). Look at the way people signed up for the Blippy.com service that not only published what they were buying with their credit cards, but accidentally published credit card numbers (Google just erased the cache for that over the weekend).

    So this looks to up-end Google PageRank in short order.

    Expect Google to be at the forefront of opposition to stop this.

    • josh

      “So this looks to up-end Google PageRank in short order.”

      Nail on the head.

      “Expect Google to be at the forefront of opposition to stop this.”

      Along with Jeff.

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  • http://www.newstribune.com Rick

    I’m unclear how what Facebook is doing is different than what already is being done across the Internet in terms of privacy and information collection/sharing. I have no idea nor any control over what third-party advertising agencies are collecting about me as I log in to various sites. I assume they’re not matching my personal log-ins to my actions, but who knows? Does anyone really read privacy policies, or if they do, make head or tails out of them, other than the fact they say they can do what they want. Also, I may think I’m taking precautions to guard against rootkits and keyloggers on my computer, but I’m not completely sure I’m successful, and surely a good percentage of users are not even trying that hard.

    I suspect attempting to control one’s information is futile. Perhaps the advantage to us of Facebook’s way of doing it is I can now see some of what the advertisers already track about my friends. Perhaps the way to give Facebook some competition in this space is not to clamp down our control but rather, for each of us to give everything about ourselves away to every service. We all become open books like Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis. Then Facebook doesn’t gain an advantage. We also might be forced by practicality to stop hiding ourselves and stop judging others so harshly. Obviously, I don’t know either but am thinking out loud.

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  • David UK
  • David UK

    http://hacks.mozilla.org/2010/04/account-manager-coming-to-firefox/

    The source of the ReadWriteWeb story. (Sorry about that really long link)

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  • Leland

    Jeff, I think you hit upon one of the most important points of Facebook identity. It is linked to real-life, and frequently, what we do on the web should not be linked to our real life identity.

    When the identity we are throwing around on the internet is directly linked to our real-life one, everything becomes more complicated and far reaching. Many people have lost their jobs and created a horrible future job hunting position due to stupid things said online using their Facebook connect identity.

    Facebook needs to realize that the future is not always more and more verification of identity and real life crossover.

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  • http://adasddsf.com appendicitis

    When the identity we are throwing around on the internet is directly linked to our real-life one, everything becomes more complicated and far reaching. I’m unclear how what Facebook is doing is different than what already is being done across the Internet in terms of privacy and information collection/sharing.If someone wants to build a more open system to challenge it, they’ve got to come up with a super simple design that requires little or no work by users. And they’ll have to find a way to quickly scale it to match the value I get from the network effect that makes Facebook so compelling to me.

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