Abstraction and absurdity

Lolcat Identity picture

It’s a funny industry, the web industry.

What started out for many of us as a job creating digital expressions has fast become the job of watching the world change how it communicates with itself and then coming up with ways in which we, or our clients, might fit into it all.

Buoyed up by all of this excitement, we sometimes end up with some pretty absurd ideas and discussions.

In a speakers’ evening I went to a while ago, someone asked when social shopping had first been invented (as if this phenomonen didn’t pre-date the internet), and just the other day I heard about the dramatic effect that ‘social networking’ was having on society (as if society itself had been invented by a somewhat snotty Harvard student).

On Friday, I was lucky enough to be at dConstruct 2008 in Brighton. The packed conference included some original takes on how to describe and design for a ‘social’ web. i particularly recommend Jeremy Keith’s mesmerizing walk from Isaac Asimov through determinism nd kevin bacon to the structure of all things and the future of all communications (which will apparently be podcast shortly – the speech not the future).

In his segment on Microformats, Tantek Celik unlocked a hugely interesting topic: looking at how a unified mark-up of social and identity data could be far more important than any single project like OpenID, allowing users to create identities (including lists of contacts) which could then be subscribed to from other sites. This approach reduces the burden (and inaccuracy) of maintaining multiple sets of information, eases the transition between networks etc. Combining this approach with platforms like OpenID could then produce single click registrations, or even single click logins across multiple domains.

I began to think about what this would mean for (for want of a better phrase) digital natives – the generation who were born after all this stuff became commonplace and see this level of technology as just normal.

Presumably the prize for sites now is it just registration but to be selected as the ‘single source of truth’ for these natives. If I were one, I’d use this blog (NB: note shiny new domain name). I guess others would use MySpace or Flickr.

Its interesting too that this syndication approach is the same as the approach architects of large scale data models are taking inside of orgnaisation. Perhaps, we are at last starting to close in on a global system of identity and social identity.

And that’s when I caught myself. Because, again I was attempting to think that all of this complexity could be reduced to its online ‘shaddow’. As if identity were a concept whose most important manifestation were online.

The changes in how we manage our online identities will no doubt be intense in the next few years but it remains a tiny proportion of the question about how we exist and exist online, and how we express ourselves in all of these new communities we have to explore.

So don’t let a computer try and capture your identity. Not just yet anyway.