Archive for the ‘identity’ category


Yesterday I gave a talk on web2.0 and social networking systems to a group of scientists at a Crown Research Institute. There were about forty people in the room, and another six or so videoconferencing in from other sites. I asked for a show of hands on questions like “who’s heard of web2.0″ (about half), “who thinks they could attempt an explanation of what web2.0 is” (one person), “who reads blogs” (two thirds), “who has a blog” (none), “who has used a wiki” (five or so), and who has an account on Facebook (none). During my talk they asked a lot of very sensible questions about privacy, digital identity, using Web 2.0 and SNS tools in the enterprise, and their utility in distributed research collaborations.

Today I got a request from a colleague to join a new SNS/feed aggregator called FriendFeed. I almost screamed. Another web2.0 technology to learn, another user account to create, another set of social relationships to map, another thing to keep up to date? That’s the last thing I need!!!!! Given that I really trust the opinion of the person who recommended it, and that I have a professional interest in this area I went ahead anyway and created an account.

It made me think that there should be a word for being overwhelmed by all of the rapidly emerging new ways to collaborate and keep in touch with people. ‘Feedtigue’ seems like an appropriate term to me. It also made me think that if I’m feeling this, and I’m a passionate early adopter of such things, what must it be like for the scientists, and other non-IT people?

We’re in a space where the technology is developing so fast, it’s enabling a myriad of changes to the way we interact with people, the size of our social networks, the frequency of our communications. We can’t predict what will work, and what won’t. To me, the web2.0 boom is an evolutionary process. Many things will be tried and will fail. Some things will work and will stick. A lot of the “try everything and keep what works” has to be done by the early adopters, so the majority don’t have to expend the effort, and can wait until the really useful things stablise.

Once I had a look at FriendFeed I was quite impressed. Its main purpose seems to be to aggregate feeds from blogs, Flickr,, twitter, and to distribute them to your social network. It’s not so much another thing to keep up to date, but a way of gathering the existing things together to reduce the effort and friction. It’s a bit like Sxipper (a tool to manage identity and logins across many web sites), and Netvibes (a personal portal) in that it’s infrastructure that helps people glue a whole range of web.20 services together and make them easier to use. I’m hoping we’ll see more of this sort of thing in the future.

Identity Crisis

I have an identity crisis when it comes to Facebook. Bebo and LinkedIn are easy. The language I use to describe myself on my Bebo and LinkedIn profiles is quite different. LinkedIn is clearly for networking with professionals, in a work context. I do a lot of voluntary work with teenagers and Bebo is very clearly oriented to that age group. Almost everyone I’m connected to on Bebo is a teenager whom I’ve met through that real life voluntary work.

Facebook is different. People in a number of my different networks are talking about it. I’ve gotten friend requests from a number of different people from different communities I engage in. I don’t particularly want these different communities connected. A colleague of mine recently mentioned to me that her boss wanted to connect to her on Facebook, but she didn’t want to because her Facebook identity was for the community she engaged in for one of her hobbies.

Dave Snowden and a number of other theorists in the KM field have discussed the notion that people have multiple identities (backed up I’m sure by much underpinning research in philosophy and psychology). We have identities as a partner, as a member of a family, as a professional, as a member of a group of friends, the list goes on. We dynamically and effortlessly shift between these identities, using different language, different facial expressions and different behavior, as is appropriate to the community or relationship we’re engaged in at the time. I even consciously speak and act differently with different organisations that are my clients. To work effectively within the culture of an engineering firm you have to behave differently than when working with a government department.

Currently online social networks assume we have just one identity. They assume we either want people to see that identity (i.e. be our friend) or not see it (not be our friend). They don’t adequately represent the granularity and complexity of the way we manifest our multiple identities in the real world. Facebook is getting there. It has a concept of ‘networks’. You can join particular networks and choose to have parts of your contact information, and parts of your profile, viewable to only your friends, or only to particular networks.

To me this still isn’t right though. I don’t want to just hide and show particular details, I want different details based on different networks. I want to be able to define multiple profiles based on my multiple identities. It’s either that or set up multiple facebook profiles, which would be time consuming and confusing to maintain.

On their ‘In the Works’ section Facebook says they have coming:
“Sort out your friends.
We’ll let you organize that long list of friends into groups so you can decide more specifically who sees what.”

This might be enough, but not if they only do the same kind of granularity as they do with networks. I think they need multiple profiles on one account. Perhaps they should call them ‘faces’.

Footnote – I’ve just read this very intriguing article which discusses viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace.

That originality is key. It's all about ideas. There are a lot of people out there making trousers and the world doesn't need more of that.
Karen Walker