Monthly Archives: February 2008

Online Community Roundtable

I’m continuing to fly under the radar as SocialRep ramps up. We’ve just completed our first pilot with a major international customer, and I’m heading to Tokyo next week to present our report on the pilot and discuss pilot two. It’s been a hell of a ride for the past few months, and I still feel highly constrained in what I can say about what I’m to. But Bill Johnston and Jeremiah Owyang pulled me out of my shell last night at the Online Community Roundtable, hosted this time at Forrester Research. You can find Bill’s roundup here; and you can find Jeremiah’s here.

As always, the roundtable pulled an excellent small crowd of social media and community practitioners, and we spent a couple of hours talking shop.

Instead of rehashing the reports that Bill and Jeremiah covered so well, I want to follow up on the presentation by Charlene Li on the Future of Social Networks. Li proposes that in the next five to ten years, Social Networks will become ubiquitous and integrated into our daily lives–instead of navigating to social networks to engage in discrete activities, we will simply engage in activities in which social networking is naturally integrated. One key requirement of this level of integration is some kind of universal ID that does away with the 10 or 20 redundant ids we currently have to manage across distributed social networks. It’s a great idea that many are talking about, but few solutions seem imminent.

I want to add to this discussion by putting out an idea I’ve been thinking about for some time. I’m sure someone’s already thought of this, but I haven’t seen it covered. The concept is Identity Escrow–a service by which an independent 3rd party validates a consumer’s identity, and holds the real identity private, while providing an anonymous guarantee of id validity to any online community, or commercial service that requires proof of identity. In a real world scenario, I would sign up with an ID Escrow service, let’s call it IDVault. I would give IDVault my real name, social security number, and perhaps a credit card number, all of which can be used to verify my true identity and credit worthiness where needed. In turn, IDVault provides me with an ID Number that I can now use anywhere it’s accepted on the Web to validate my identity–my age, citizenship, credit if necessary–without actually disclosing any private personal or credit information.

There are a number of problems I think this would solve. 1) I would only have to disclose my identity and personal information to a ~single~ company, and would therefore be able to more easily track the use or abuse of my private information. 2) I would never have to disclose private personal or credit information to an ecommerce company. The merchant wants payment, but nothing in the commercial exchange guarantees their right to my personal information. If I have an ID Escrow account, I can make a guarantee of payment without disclosing information that will lead to a mailbox full of spam. 3) Any company requiring proof of id–including proof of age, citizenship, or other security details–would get that guarantee from the Escrow number, without actually getting the sensitive data that compromises my identity.

While I think the concept of universal open ID is great, I think people have legitimate reasons to modulate their identities in different places, without compromising information that links back to a personal identifier–like an email address. But that personal right to privacy creates the potential for predators to abuse the anonymity of the Web to carry out illegal acts. I think an Identity Escrow service would not only solve some of those problems, but provide a commercial value to consumers who want to sheild their private information online.

What do you think?