Monthly Archives: August 2007

Who are you? Why should I believe you? And how much do (I want) you (to) know about me?

The Black Swan

The only thing we know is that everything will happen.Lloyd Blankfein

We have met the enemy, and he is us.Walt Kelly

This was a reply to Darren’s post, but it got so long that I decided to throw it up here.

The issue is managing your identity online, what this smart blogger calls “the social graph.” I signed up for the group and will be following their progress with interest.

Build a portable online identity and reputation management system and the world will beat a path to your door. OpenID is portable but who is the Linus Torvalds of OpenID? The project needs an evangelist and no one’s gotten (the project or their identity as “the OpenID evangelist”) to critical mass yet.

One solution I can imagine is an online SSN, an identifier string that can only be attached to a single email address at a time (or a mobile phone number!), which is then run through a reputation algorithm using Google-like technology, where a matrix of reputation variables are assessed based on the trail you’ve left across the internet. You will never “know,” the game will be to run prediction algorithms (Bayesian filters?) across a sufficient number of actions or user-generated content online to make a reasonable assumption that the person purporting to buy a garden hose / comment a blog post / friend you on Facebook… this is far out stuff, with a million unforeseen consequences, but perhaps there’s a “broken windows” effect not unlike that proposed for offline crime, with a correlation of some sort between forum-trolling and more (economically) meaningful types of anti-social behavior.

LinkedIn and Plaxo are moving in this direction IMO. I just installed the LinkedIn Outlook toolbar (which I highly recommend to any LinkedIn user), and it’s one facet of a (manual) reputation management tool, the communications piece. If they are able to continue demonstrating value in these types of services to their userbase, it is a natural evolution for them to become ever more an “identity broker,” at least in their own particular verticals (business people), if not universally.

According to Consumer Reports, spam, viruses, spyware and phishing have together cost U.S. consumers over $7 BILLION in the last two years. And it’s far worse on the businessman’s end, identity fraud (eg, credit card fraud) totaled $49.3 BILLION in 2006 alone. Even with the absurd assumption of no year-over-year growth you have over $105 BILLION for 2006-07 in online fraud here in the U.S. That’s $175 per American per year. And if you trust the CIA World Factbook, which puts the US economy as 20% of global GDP, then you’re looking at a $250+ BILLION global annual market.
If you could become as trusted in identity validation as Google is in search, then you’d be in a position to make… a little bit of money.

Another idea worth noting is that there is the chance the market may actually manufacture a wide-scale change in fundamental social behavior… kids growing up online today with “radical transparency” aren’t going to necessarily care what their co-workers versus their friends can see, assuming effective reciprocity across your peer group (“everyone’s doing it” within your slice of the class spectrum). If you’ve read, or read about, ‘Bowling Alone,’ it would hardly be the first time new technology and new economic opportunity has dramatically changed the social contracts we hold with one another.

As the problems of the online world mirror offline social issues with more and more versimillitude, it will be interesting to watch the solutions proposed, see who offers the most value, and who captures the most market share.