Reputation & The Battle For Our Identity

This quote and link is a must-read piece from Twitter’s (and Blogger’s) founder Ev Williams, regarding digital identity.

Online identity is still a messy problem with lots of opportunities. I predict we’ll continue to see further integration of the five pieces by all major players, as well as more attempts to outsource these services across the Internet.

Hopefully we’ll also see more attempts at decentralized services that offer these features, as well.

Will there be a day when there’s one true identity system? While the big guys will keep getting bigger, I don’t think identity will be “owned,” per se—at least not on the open Internet. As we transition to a mobile-dominated Internet (and a more closed one), things are going to play out much differently, however.

via Evan Williams | evhead: Five Easy Pieces of Online Identity.

Identity is something that any technology builder thinks about early in the development of their product, and it’s an element that remains top of mind as that product evolves. Effectively authenticating, representing, and personalizing every user’s experience with your product is fundamental to the role it will play in their lives.

Meanwhile, in a broader sense, identity remains a fertile battleground on the web that will affect the future of your business.

Remember when you saw Facebook Connect pop up everywhere, alongside the now ubiquitous Like buttons?

The traction of the Facebook social graph has been impressive, and regardless of your feelings as to whether it’s a positive or negative development, it’s done a lot to further the conversation about our individual identities on the web. After early privacy missteps you don’t have to look much further than unproven startup Diaspora’s $200,000 heyday to infer that at least some of us find the idea of a centralized identity model concerning. At the time they merely suggested they’d build an open identity solution that wasn’t Facebook.

Facebook is by no means the only authentication solution available, and the identity landscape continues to develop. Williams breaks that landscape into five distinct areas…all of which, he points out, are currently and will continue to be hotly contested. Authentication, representation, communication, personalization, and reputation; important elements of ‘who we are’ offline and thus integral to our online and mobile experience as it matures.

At Foodtree, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about representation, personalization, and reputation lately. After a very thought provoking conversation with Tom Williams just over a week ago about that last one, I found this comment from Ev particularly poignent:

Though talked about a lot, reputation is probably the least developed of these five pieces in the online world. In the offline world, though, it’s built into all our interactions and choices. To me, this suggests it will get more important online when we figure out how to do it right. Ebay is the classic example of making reputation a large part of identity. Many other services have an internal reputation score of some sort, usually as a way of combating spam and other abuse.

via same.

As my comment yesterday on a great Techcrunch article from LiveFyre‘s founder Jordan Kretchmer made clear, I think that reputation is the next frontier of our digital presence.

What we know and care about is fundamental to who we are; our relationships, happiness, and self-worth. Who we’ve made ourselves into, and who we want to be, is what drives our decisions every day.

What this means is that niche communities and conversations will always have a place in our digital identities, and will continue to help us define who we are to ourselves and to other people. Today the web does a mediocre (at best) job of “floating” expertise and passion across applications and platforms; your reputation in a niche community rarely carries any true weight outside of it. Maybe you religiously comment on the New York Time’s website. Maybe you’re a respected member of the Reddit community. Unfortunately Facebook, Twitter, Google, and nearly every other platform doesn’t really care (unless they want to sell you something, in which case they use that insight for themselves).

This isn’t about empowering self-importance, either. This is about current solutions missing key elements of our daily experience. It’s likely that among your closest friends, each person has their ‘thing‘. My friends wouldn’t ask me about the upcoming baseball season. I don’t ask them where to find free music online.

All in all, as technology matures and becomes better at letting us immerse ourselves in its benefits, I think we’ll increasingly demand that it leverage insights as to who we are and why we matter.

Personalization has become a hotbed of innovation, especially in the mobile space. Reputation on the other hand is lagging, and that’s likely the case because it’s the most complicated of the five elements. At Foodtree, as we work with our community to deposit and share deeper insight into our complex food system, we think it’s important that contributors are ‘acknowledged’ wherever they go online…not just within our community. After all, they’re working for the greater good, and deserve that recognition.

I think reputation (and of course personalization) will play a major role in true value creation, delight, and ubiquity for tomorrow’s technologies. It is those three things which embody the inherent potential of technology for human beings.

Don’t believe me?

Answer me this: As it relates to your daily happiness, how important is your Picture ID, business card, or phone number?

Now, how about the fact that your barista has your single origin drip coffee ready each morning when you walk in to the cafe, and regularly asks you for tips on the great music you’ve been listening to?