It’s been interesting to watch Doc and Eric work through Doc’s NEA description of the Internet:
Doc attracts many of us because he’s so good at coming up with the seminal phrase that captures what so many of us are thinking about. Eric took exception to the first stanza, pointing out that every corner of the Internet is owned by somebody. Like so many blogged ideas, Doc told us about reality rather than fact, and Eric took him to task over that detail.
I can walk across town to Times Square in about 20 minutes, and so it seems to me that the Internet is like Times Square. Everything interesting about Times Square is owned, but it’s still a public resource. Everybody (in the vicinity) can use it, and Anybody with a sandwich board sign, a restaurant flyer, an outlandish costume or ghetto blaster can (as they see it) improve it. Although the people who own the parts could theoretically improve it until it’s unrecognizable, they’re not likely to mess with the formula.
Rudy Giuliani changed Times Square more than anybody by getting rid of the panhandlers, hookers and sleaze industry. I’m not sure whether there’s an analogy there. Was he Fritz Hollings? I don’t think so.
Several years ago, I built a really nice home, employing a master carpenter whose work was so good that I soon gave him his head and let him work out the details. At the end of the project, Troy told me, “It’s my house—you’re just the owner.”
“I’m a Good Girl, I am”
Liza Doolittle’s protestation could have no effect on Professor Higgins because he knew nothing about her. She would be better off saying “I want to be known as a good girl!” A reputation will always be in the eye of the beholder, no matter how many Digital ID mechanisms someone puts in place, or how centralized it is.
As you know if you followed Doc’s and Eric’s exchange better than I could, it was about digital ID, online reputation, anonymity and privacy. I’m not sure I can or should add anything, but, since Xpertweb and this design study is mostly about reputation, here are some escapable thoughts.
The anonymous quote gets it right. Privacy is not the same as anonymity and, when we’re truly alone, consenting with other adults, we have the privacy rights we think we’re guaranteed by the Constitution. When we go out into the Agora to do business with others, we have no right to anonymity. And this ID thing is only about selling stuff. It’s not like we’ll be choosing our kid’s Day Care Center without direct experience.
So, since Digital ID is only about selling, let’s put it into the frame it deserves. If we customers/consumers remain willing to foot the fraud bill charged by vendors and card companies, we will. Just because they see the possibility of saving billions doesn’t mean the problem’s going to be solved. Eric insists:
Or not. Grand visions where many big companies cooperate toward a common end seem to get bogged down in the reality of the roll-out. Is this really any different than the Microsoft’s failed centralized Passport idea? I surely don’t know and it’s not clear anyone does. Those midwesterners may not know Art, but they know what they don’t like. And they’re also just about as smart as other people.
No matter. Eric is sure right about one thing: parts of the Net will be much more finicky about ID than others as, by golly, they already are. He sees the Net dividing into two worlds—the ID Net and the Anonymous Net, the former being a pretty clearly cordoned off area. Given his background, he’s probably thinking of a virtual place that’s a lot like the NSA where he used to work.
Like the real world, the Net is likely to reflect the same range of anonymity as it does today. My bank is very careful about what it shows someone saying they’re me, but Amazon is less demanding and shareware authors let you take their stuff at will—catch me later, if you like it. The continuum will likely be more broad than it is now (banks to shareware), but only as a few players get more finicky.
What may change the nature of ID is a change in the nature of transactions.
When Reputation is Beyond Price
Here’s Eric Norlin quoting Frank Field, referencing Dave Noble:
Let’s ignore the detail that the simultaneous possession problem fades to inconsequence down at your friendly agora, where you’re handed the radishes at the moment you tender the cash. Let’s focus instead on the fact that most purchases are like a radish, an Amazon book, or a printer cartridge—of only nominal value to either party. The point is that buyers and sellers are most invested in never saying no to the customer or never being without a greengrocer. Since reliability is what matters in meatspace, where people are mostly trustworthy, how might we model those dynamics into cyberspace?