Your winnings, sir

In random moments I type my first name into Google to check on my long-running competition with Jon Stewart for the top spot. I thought that once he ousted me it would be all over, but strangely there are still days — like today — when I show up first. Except not really, because the top link goes to my InfoWorld blog, not my current blog which currently shows up at #40.

The situation is completely different in Live Search, by the way, where I’m way down in the list along with other Jons who are loved by Google but are not conventionally famous.

This Google love is a temporary anomaly that’s lasted longer than I expected. But if things really shouldn’t work this way, how should they work?

Part of the answer is a lifebits service that guarantees me a persistent lifelong online persona and namespace. That’ll present interesting challenges as people mix personal identities with institutional identities, and then move among institutions. But those challenges will also create business opportunities for a service fabric that manages identity, syndicates content, and measures reputation.

Suppose you’re a Microsoft blogger who has launched at blogs.msdn.com. You can choose to write a mostly professional blog, or a mostly personal one, or a blend of both. Or you can separate the professional from the personal by establishing separate blogs. But no matter how you slice it, there are no good answers to some vexing questions like:

How do you integrate the online persona that you developed before joining Microsoft, or the one you will develop if you leave?

or:

If you establish separate blogs for separate purposes, but wish to combine their reputation effects, how do you do that?

More broadly, this isn’t just about the reputation that accrues to your online persona, but also the reputation that it confers on others. Page ranking algorithms are numeric, not social. People who know me, and my work, value resources I cite because it’s me citing them. So they assign equal value to citations that emanate from weblog.infoworld.com/udell or from jonudell.net. But ranking engines have no idea that those two sources represent a common identity, and no idea of how other identities relate to that one.

The service fabric I’m envisioning would deal with this problem by means of:

1. Claims-based digital identity.

2. Persistent digital object identifiers.

From the identity metasystem manifesto:

Digital identities consist of sets of claims made about the subject of the identity, where “claims” are pieces of information about the subject that the issuer asserts are valid.

In this scenario the issuer of claims about me might as well be me. I have no need to appeal to some other authority, I just want to be able to say, definitively, “I published this piece of content,” and also, “I linked to that other piece of content.”

Now although we normally think of people having digital identities, it seems to me that digital objects can have them too. If those objects have unique and stable identifiers, then they can be the subjects of claims. In the case of a conventional hyperlink, the claim is simply that my digital identity has linked to a digital object that’s associated with some other digital identity. Your evaluation of me, of the object, and of the object’s author can leverage not only the numeric weights assigned by conventional search engines, but also claims made — about me, the object, or the object’s author — by people in your social network that you trust.

We can also imagine the service fabric supporting stronger claims, like “I recommend this object,” or “I assert that this object has been peer-reviewed,” or “This object is required reading at institution X for purpose Y.” These claims won’t be implicit in the web, but could arise from a federation of identity and content services.

It’s admittedly a stretch, but surely a worthy ambition. The recent brouhaha at TechCrunch, about astroturfing YouTube to make videos go viral, drew strong reactions from all quarters. Some people were shocked by the tactics described. Others were shocked by the naivete of the shocked. And still others were shocked in a Casablanca sort of way:

Captain Renault:
I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]

Croupier:
Your winnings, sir.

Captain Renault:
[sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

Piles of money will continue to be made in this way. But there are other piles that can be made by offering identity and content services that take us in another direction. I would like to gravitate toward those piles.

10 thoughts on “Your winnings, sir

  1. Michael Foord

    Whilst I agree that digital identity is definitely an ‘unsolved problem’, I maintain my own domain for exactly the reason you describe.

    This is also why I like OpenID – it uses domain name to assert identity.

    Reply
  2. Jon Udell Post author

    “It’s a strong argument for owning your own domain name and putting everything you do online as a cname.”

    That’s a start. But consider Michael’s case. He blogs under his own name, but also appears at Resolver Systems, and in comments elsewhere, and so on. How do you aggregate all those contributions to Michael’s identity, or assess his combined reputation and influence? Not to mention assuring that it all continues to hang together and stick around through various personal and organizational changes?

    Reply
  3. Kim Cameron

    Cool. Totally agree people are not the only entities with identity!

    BTW, I had the same problem when I left RadioLand and struck out on my own. Now when you google “Kim” you see my current blog. But if you google “Kim Cameron”, you also see a strange entry, down the page, titled “300 Multiple Choices”. Look at the link and guess what? It points to my old radioland site, years after I tried to pull the plug on it. I won’t repeat the URL here because I’m afraid that would up its rank in some search engine!!

    Reply
  4. Stephen Downes

    I feel your pain. For a long time I was tied with Stephen Wolfram for third. Then I passed Stephen Hawking, first on Yahoo, then on Google. What’s he done lately, anyways? Then I finally passed Stephen King. Top of the heap! But when I look at the Google listing today I see the Wikipedia article for Stephen of Blois, (c.1096 – 25 October 1154), the last Norman king of England. And if I can’t beat him now, I guess I’m never going to beat him.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Mike Caulfield » Blog Archive » Google rank

  6. Pingback: Between the Lines mobile edition

  7. Scott Hanselman

    Where you sit in the Google Ranks also depends greatly on whether you’re logged in with your Google ID. I’m always #1 for “Scott” – but only if I’m logged in and Google is personalizing my results.

    Reply
  8. Mary Branscombe

    ClaimID http://claimid.com does a little of this – but I found it quite a lot of work to set up. Plaxo and Facebook are both trying to aggregate my identity for me and bring the streams together; they’re both doing a good job of reminding me that having the personal and professional cross over without me asking them to can be creepy.

    Reply
  9. political forum

    You would be amazed how much legal threats can do. If someone is posting slander about you, the mere threat of a lawsuit is enough to get most people to take the content down. No webmaster wants to deal with a lawsuit for content that he has no knowledge about. Laws are starting to hold webmasters responsible for any content on their website, even if it was not put there by them.

    -Trevor

    Reply

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