[Dave Birch] Or, at least, there is such as thing as the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (the RSA), founded in 1754. I popped in today, for an afternoon seminar on Society, Government and the Internet [MP3].

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Of course, my reason for being interested in this discussion is because I appreciate the different perspectives it might bring to evolving thinking about identity, authenticity, privacy and all of the other digital identity-linked issues for the new online world. As part of my current drive to help our clients understand more about this world, and to plan for it, I trying to listen to a much wider range of people than the usual gurus.

Many of the presenters spoke about social networks and there were a variety of opinions on their likely impqct, but in conversation during the breaks, a key theme was the emergence of reputation as a filter. Public discourse on any scale is impossible in the cacophony of the net, so there has to be some mechanism for selecting or distilling opinion (whether you are the government or a company) and it may well be that distributed reputation management becomes the means to do that. Once there is a simple mechanism for using persistent multiple identities (eg, OpenID) in the social network context that they were discussing here, then it’s reasonable to assume that community-based mechanisms for reputation (and a few different kinds were discussed) will emerge and because they emerge from the community then they will be valued by that community more than management schemes that embody external values. If you do ever get a smart identity card, it might be more usefully employed storing your eBay stars than anything else.

I did agree with a couple of people there who observed that there is a re-emergent utopianism around social networking that is somewhat reminiscent of the talk about the information superhighway as decade ago. But I have to say I profoundly disagreed with the guy from spy.co.uk who said that technology doesn’t transform society, people do. Really? if it wasn’t for industrial-scale organic chemistry, then millions of people would today be employed trampling raw wool in vats of human urine no matter how much they wanted not to.

By far the most interesting presentation to me was from Professor Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Dist. Service Prof. of Jurisprudence, Law School, Dept. of Political Science and the College, University of Chicago. He spoke about the way in which the blogosphere polarises opinion. It didn’t have much to do with digital identity, but it was a pleasure to listen to someone talk so informatively about a subject they understand thoroughly.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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