The Digital Identity Crisis Is Here

It is old news by now that, even as it approaches half a billion registered users, Facebook also infamously accounts for one of the most searched phrases in recent weeks, i.e., “how do I delete my Facebook profile?” among other variations.

It seems that as the Net Generation has entered the workforce and begun its process of professional acculturation, the desire to be a little more circumspect about one’s personal data has increased. I’ve been predicting this would happen for quite some time.

However, as I and many other observers with a bit of “gray hair” have written, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle. A good summary article in the NY Times entitled “How Privacy Vanishes Online” discussed how the minutiae of personal data that we provide online – our birthdays, our school and work histories, etc. – are pieces that can be assembled to supplement programs specifically written to guess more important personal identifiers, like social security numbers.

This sea of data minutiae is likely to increase, with more and more being captured that we know and that others know about us, as shown in the diagram from a research paper about “Pervasive Personal Identity” by nGenera.

At the same time, more is becoming known about us that we are either unaware exists in the hands of others or of which we are completely unaware about ourselves – in other words, totally new findings about our unique digital selves, as represented in the bottom-right “unknown” quadrant of the diagram.

So, how do we navigate this sea of identity, where it feels like we are less the captains of our own cruise liner and more the passenger on an itty-bitty skiff with no one at the oars? Fortunately, there’s a lot going on and, for those that want to get just a bit more educated about the subject, here are some resources for you to check out.

In terms of framing the “big think” aspects of the identity discussion, some excellent recent writing samples – all of which will lead you to other writers providing thought leadership – include the following:

Actually, Cameron’s list is augmented by members of the Identity Commons community. This community is the best center of gravity that I’ve run across for the combination of technical, educational, and legal proposals and solutions involving (digital) identity.

For example, the Identity Venn diagram is perhaps the best single representation of both the technology state-of-the-art and aspirational target of user-centric identity management. Of the three major circles in the diagram, two (SAML and OpenID) are slowly, but surely getting increased adoption.

It is the third piece – information cards, or i-cards – is the linchpin that is yet to really obtain a sufficient level of early adoption.  But, I believe the era of i-cards is coming. And open source projects like Higgins, are helping to strengthen the knowledge and code base for i-card technology so that (hopefully) they will be here sooner than later.

In the meantime, there are some simple steps that we can all practice to be more involved in managing our identities, just like the parental wisdom your mom or dad might have tried to impart with you when you were a kid about managing your money. These include:

  • Employ your own “listening” to know the unknown – anyone can set up a Google or Yahoo alert, which sends you an e-mail any time your name is used on the internet. Do it.
  • Actively manage your critical records and passwords – yes, it can be a hassle, but you need to manage your identity, just like you manage your career. So, simple regular housekeeping – like keeping your profile current and changing your key passwords from time to time – is a necessity.
  • Teach your loved ones about the value of personal information – while media attention about the changes to Facebook privacy controls is helping to educate younger generations about the permanence of data, they need to be reminded that “there is no delete key” for the internet

The truth is, your digital identity and your analog life are irrevocably connected; so if you don’t manage your identify, someone else will, by creating or perpetuating information about “who you are” that is outdated or incorrect. As the new turn on the old saying “You are what you eat” goes: “you are what you tweet.”

Fish and data

Data is cool. First, its very name is both singular and plural, like sheep or fish. (And don’t get all grammatical on me, you datum-is-singular apologists.) Second, it’s so definitive – something is 57% or it isn’t. Pi is 3.14159-etc. Sure, you can argue about the data gathering, integrity, interpretation and the like. But, at least you are arguing about the objective, rather than the subjective.

But, what I really like about data is what it reveals about all things measured. It’s in that vein that I’ve been picking up a few interesting recent developments about data, measurement, and the public sector.

First, I read a really good write-up about website measurement in the Google Public sector blog. It’s a really nice case example of data analytics 101 for a website. And, just like the writer, I have had that same giddy feeling when reviewing data from a website’s traffic and other stats.

Second, there was a good write-up about the social media side of data gathering and measurement in InformationWeek. It discusses the CIA’s investment in the social media monitoring from Visible Technologies. Good stuff, but not especially unique – you can get listeners, monitoring, and semantic trending built into nGenera’s collaboration server right now.

Third, we just published our 2010 research agenda for nGenera’s Government Insight program and are excited about some of the research vectors we intend to explore. In the major topic area of “Leading in the age of unbounded data,” we expect to cover into listening, massively customized analytics, orchestrating, and methods for reaching beyond stereotypes.

Content may be king, but data is the kingmaker. If you haven’t done so in a while, I recommend you brush up on the latest in data analytics, visualization and simulation. In a world awash in data, the ability to interpret and apply it in real-time will be increasingly a critical success factor differentiating between market leaders and followers, whether they be public or private sector.

Super rapid awesome brands

Brands matter. Great brands make a positive difference in cost of sales and in overall company book value. You know that line on the balance sheet called goodwill? The somewhat ephemeral items that compose goodwill are often comprised of things like brand, high performing culture, and other soft items that make the company worth what it’s worth.

Social media, mass collaboration platforms, and other tools of the web 2.0 age have helped amplify brands, both for those that are going to market for the first time looking for ways to accelerate their entry, as well as established big brands that are looking to further reinforce and extend their positioning.

MS20The research team for nGenera’s Marketing & Sales 2.0 program recently completed a study and associated new report on Brand Communities. In the report, for which the research team studied over 100 online communities of big and small brands, there several notable frameworks and lists that provide unique insight on the subject of branded communities. These include:

  • The New Brand Arsenal – chart of 13 elements, comparing a decade ago to today
  • The six ways brand communities create value – advocacy, insight, content, support, perception, and serendipity
  • The FLIRT Model (Blueprint for success): Focus, Language, Incentives, Rules, and Tools
  • Implications for the Future of Marketing
  • The 50-question Readiness Assessment for building and operating a branded community

The process of creating an awesome brand isn’t just for companies with deep pockets. More than ever, one can be extremely efficient with capital, yet rapidly create and launch a brand that makes a powerful statement. One super resource I discovered earlier this year is Brandstack.

brandstack-croppedThe good folks at Brandstack came up with a way to reverse the brand creation process.   Frequently (always?) the entrepreneur must endure a maddeningly prolonged process that starts with their “big idea,” immediately followed by:

  • (a) thinking of a company name
  • (b) vetting it for availability
  • (c) checking for available URLs
  • (d) designing a logo and tagline
  • (e) creating a stationery system, including business cards, letterhead, envelopes or labels,
  • (f) designing the website, etc. etc.  

Brandstack reverses the process.  Designers from around the country (or globe), develop the brands first – including domain names, logos, template websites, and source rights to the IP – and put them up for sale in an open market for the would-be entrepreneur to browse. When the entrepreneur selects one, they can pay the suggested list price or make an offer. 

A clever way, indeed, to launch your very own super, rapid awesome brand.