Hi, I’m Shawn. What is your potentially-useless Identity Token?

Ethan Zuckerman posted a great article last week triggered by issues around “anonymous blogging”. I would encourage all folks interested in online identity to give it (and its comments) a read-through. He wraps his post with some of these thoughts:

… maybe asking for a name is a kind of shorthand. We want to know the community reputation of a person, and asking for a name is a way to retrieve that reputation for some subset of people …

… is this a linguistic legacy, a way of asking for an identity token that may no longer be especially useful?

I’m all-too-frequently surprised when clueful, smart, savvy business people tell me that they don’t worry about the reputation of their communities because everybody has to use their real name. It’s a pleasant, hopeful concept, but it’s not reality. With minimal effort, I can ‘prove’ to you that my name is “Jim Smith” or even “Mary Jones”. As Zuckerman suggests, we don’t really want or need to know each others’ names.

What we want is to know whether or not to interact with the person. Should we invest our time with them? The time might be minimal, as in reading their comments on a blog, or more material, as in buying a couch from them via criagslist, or maybe it’s a serious commitment, perhaps dating them. You want to know their reputation first. Their name is far less critical. At TrustPlus we believe that your online reputation is a combination of:

  • your prior behavior,
  • the context at hand, and
  • your connectedness to the party requesting the reputation.

If I’m considering buying a motorcycle from a seller on EPage, I want to know what people have said about her in similar dealings. Her reputation in dissimilar contexts (dating, as a verterinarian, on dog chat boards) is interesting, but less relevant. Most importantly, I care whether and how these data points are connected between us. If my best friend got burned on a motorcycle deal with her, it won’t matter if five folks I don’t know think she’s the bee’s knees.

For the first time in human history, we can each potentially connect with billions of people. Like that famous designer of Norwegian fjords would say, “our names are not important”. What is important critical in this new world order is our reputation, and how it precedes us.

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