Many accepted tenets of identity relate to how identity works in the real world. James O'Kane (who works at KPMG in his other life, and has some freaky real-life experiences in law enforcement and online behavior) led a session on social identity at today's Internet Identity Workshop.
O'Kane kicked off by tying social identity to emerging identity taxonomies and analysis. The sixth law of identity supposes human integration. The first "identity tier" refers to permanent traits of personal identity; these are the only traits that are not assigned by others. An emerging second tier could be considered social identity: a person's own definition of self in terms of social group membership.
In social psychology, Professor John Souler (sp?) has proposed several concepts around how psychological principles apply online:
- Self-boundary: What is me, what is not me? What are the personality variables that I bring? (Am I obsessive? Am I manic?) This is different from self-categorization, which refers to the set of processes that drive our different behaviors under different circumstances.
- Online context: Dynamics that disrupt traditional self-boundaries. The expression of one's self is not independent of the environment in which it is expressed.
- Paradox: we give away our private data by default, though we state that we don't want it made public
One particularly interesting finding that O'Kane mentioned: The more undesirable a trait is, the more unlikely we are to reveal it - and the higher the price we will demand in order to reveal it.
Moving forward, can self-categorization processes be dynamically modeled and maintained? O'Kane suggests a vision of a "self-categorization agent" that individuals can train with identity, profile, and relationship information to learn user preferences, in order to have dynamically suggested digital identities across a variety of contexts.
While connecting first online, and then offline, is benign (and desired) on MeetUp, it's definitely not benign when it comes to crimes like child pornography. (Disclosure note: Omidyar Network is an investor in MeetUp.) It's also not yet clear how people will resolve their online and offline personas. People don't behave the same when they meet someone on Match.com as they do when they meet that same person in a bar. How do you value the richness of the direct interaction, as vs. the rich background information available at Match? Is information's value driven by the context in which it is received?
I suspect that this difficulty in persona resolution is also a factor inhibiting the growth of local participatory media such as citizen journalism. In order to capitalize upon the opportunities presented by emerging identity technologies, we'll need to invest in social research that can manage risk and increase our personal comfort in the new "persona medium."