[Dave Birch] I went to a talk by Clay Shirky. The talk was, essentially, about his new book Here Comes Everybody. He’s a very good speaker, had very cogent and thought-provoking material and has made me start reflecting on my model of identity and reputation once again. There’s no point reproducing his talk since you can read the book or the blog yourselves, but there were a few points that I feel like highlighting. The core of what he said was the the technology of the Net has become boring enough to become socially interesting (in other words, my Dad reads my blog now) and one of the first-order effects of this is that media is becoming a call to action. He gave a couple of very well-chosen examples to illustrate the point (taking on the mafia in Palermo via a web site and flashmob protests in Minsk) that it is only now that we are entering the real experimental period as group co-ordination evolves as a branch of political philosophy. This experimental period has some fundamentally new characteristics because of the nature of the underlying technology: in particular, you don’t need anyone’s help or permission to experiment with new models and the cost of failure is much reduced. This sounds like the next phase may be chaos, but as Kevin Kelly observed “bottom up is never enough”. At some point, there needs to be some structure in a group and I think that there is some evidence to suggest that distributed reputation management may well be the only mechanism needed to achieve that once there is some genuine security in place (so that reputations cannot be hijacked). Therefore, my view of the importance of secure credentials is reinforced, because I see reputation as being the history of a virtual identity over time and that virtual identity is a collection of credentials.

The collection of credentials that define an identity may be quite wide (eg, name, address, employer etc) or quite narrow (eg, an e-mail address), so it’s the type of credentials that interest me and the moment rather than the number of them. One of the potentially valuable credentials that might be attached to a virtual identity might well be something along the lines of “IS_A_PERSON”. Why? Well, there are plenty of situations where net discourse is subverted by the absence of such of credential, point that came up only today when I was reading a blog for a magazine article I’m writing and came across this:

We have had 171 blogs setup on cublogs.org since we started it. Of all of those blogs, only 7 have actually been setup by real people or credit unions. The rest have all been spam and it is becoming a slight daily annoyance.

[From Tough decision with cublogs.org | The Life and Times of a Credit Union Employee]

If you have a blog where it is important that people, not bots, contribute then you might well demand to see a certificate with the IS_A_PERSON credential, even though you don’t actually care which person it is. Ah, you might say, but who cares about blog posting? For important, regulated, activities such as banking then this sort of thing is irrelevant. Really? Consider the case of Las Vegas resident Adam Gregory who went on a business trip to Phoenix. He stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and charged the $1,082 bill to his American Express card — or so financial records show. In fact, Mr. Gregory didn’t live in Las Vegas, never held a job and wasn’t even a real person. He was a “synthetic” identity — a person who appears real on paper but is actually a fraudster’s concoction designed to trick financial institutions into granting loans and issuing credit cards.

There are other cases, of course, where it doesn’t matter whether an identity has the IS_A_PERSON credential or not. On this blog, I don’t care if a poster is a real person or a roomful of students or a bank: all I care about is that their comments add to the debate. On eBay, I don’t care whether a seller is a real person or a company or whatever so long as the reputation system works properly: if you have the stars, I’ll do business with you, which perhaps ought to be the web 3.0 rallying cry. Anyway…

In now traditional fashion there’s signed copy of Clay’s book Here Comes Everybody on my desk waiting to be sent to the first person to reply to this post with the name of the university where Clay is currently an adjunct professor. Also in the now traditional fashion, the offer is open to all except for employees and associates of Consult Hyperion and members of my immediate family. There are no cash alternatives and the prize must be won within a month. Oh, and no-one can win more than one of these blog competitions per year.

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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