Social Networking Without a Safety Net


Jeff Jarvis just got back from Davos where he found plenty of identity-related discussion. Jeff says "One of the thin threads I saw cutting through much of my Davos experience was the notion of identity" and goes on to enumerate many of them, including the trade-off between privacy and reputation and the relationship between reputation and transparency. What caught my eye though, was this:

All this opens up lots of opportunities in technology. I said to a couple of my fellow participants at Davos --- a media mogul, an internet entrepreneur --- and I will say it in another post here that I think the real opportunity is not to start a social network but to better enable the social network that the internet already is, to pull together our distributed identities and help us manage them and make the connections we want to make. That comes through the expression of our identities. We express that both with our content and our connections: We are the company we keep.
From BuzzMachine
Referenced Wed Jan 31 2007 10:13:56 GMT-0700 (MST)

In 2003, I wrote an essay on what I called loosely coupled conversations, describing what I think Jeff is talking about. Blogging is arguably the first, largest, and most successful social network on the Web. The remarkable thing is that there's no central service.

Blogging doesn't require a LinkedIn to keep track of the connections between people or a MySpace to say who your friends are. Blogging, done right, links you to people and helps you find friends, but without the safety net that social networking sites provide.

There's nothing wrong with the safety net that social networking sites provide. Millions of people benefit from the additional structure, but they're never going to be the Internet, which as Jeff points out is where the real opportunity lies.

Beyond blogging, adding real value to the loosely coupled social network we call the 'Net requires portable, Internet-scale, decentralizable identity. The kind that we discuss at the Internet Identity Workshop. Without such identities, we're at the mercy of some authority to grant our identity to us.

Blogging shows, I think, how you can break free from institutional identity and establish one with more independence. The only real institutional foundation my blog identity has is the domain name and the rules there are sufficiently established, that we can assume that windley.com is mine. After that, what identity I build on top of that domain is up to me. This is why I advise people who want to start blogging that they need to own the domain their blog is on.

Of course, for most, getting a domain and tying it to the place where you blog is way too hard. The geeks out there are laughing, but until it's as easy as signing up for MySpace or Typepad it's too hard. Creating, owning, and using an identity on the 'Net needs to simple.

Creating and, with the right set-up, owning an identity isn't that hard. After all, i-names do this already. The trick is using them. There are some things that need to happen in browsers and some things that the XRI folks need to do to make XRI resolution something that anyone can play with.

Not only is there opportunity here, but this also a nut I think can be cracked. If i-names or OpenID don't solve the problem, something else will. This isn't PKI where no matter which way you look at it, it's hard. Enabling Internet-wide identities that are easy to get and easy to use while at the same time providing real value and security is within reach.