P2P Business Platforms and the Story of Digital Identity

the story of digital identity.jpg

Aldo Castañeda recently hosted Johannes Ernst, Dick Hardt & John Kemp in what he called a “User-Centric” episode. Paradoxically, what I got from this excellent show was the entire opposite, i.e. that there’s nothing “user-centric” in Digital Identity. Here are my impressions from the sub-text of that show.

Johannes Ernst maintained that in the future we’ll have an eBAY without an eBAY. Meaning: instead of having eBAY as a broker, people will engage in eBAY-like transactions without relying on a central entity. Ernst added, that this vision of completely decentralized business transactions, running on a global, peer-to-peer infrastructure, is currently under construction.

This insight shed an interesting light on the Skype-eBAY deal (Skype as a p2p infrastructure company. And see also A Skype Rashomon: P2P, Voice and the Read/Write Web ).

Naturally, Identity makes an essential part of any business infrastructure and a globaly distributed p2p business platform makes no exception. It is therefore logical to envision a decentralized Identity infrastructure as part of the future p2p business sphere, and indeed, that’s one of the key success factors for Digital Identity, as presented by Dick Hardt.

But the explicit and repetitive mentioning of the Digital Identity’s decentralized architecture serves, imho, another goal. Usually, when decentralization is discussed, people think about the centralized opposite with its Big Brother connotation. Decentralization triggers, therefore, an immediate, tangible sensation of freedom and user-control. I’m afraid that Digital Identity rides on these feelings; some of its promoters describe its decentralized nature as if this will bring salvation (and control) to the users of the virtual-o-sphere. (I disagree with this sub-textual message, and see also Identity2.0 Illusion of Control).

This time, though, I heard a different tone – some kind of disillusionment from that alleged spirit of freedom. The panel agreed that federation and/or decentralization don’t imply personal control. Actually, they sort of agreed that the only control a User maintains is whether or not to engage in a business transaction, and that’s basically it. If the user elects to do the transaction, then she must provide the service provider with whatever Identity attributes the provider requires. There’s no Identity Bazaar in which the user negotiates what attributes to reveal and what to conceal. Moreover, without a 3rd-party – a trusted Identity Provider that confirms the User’s Identity claims – no transaction is possible, because in the world of Digital Identity the User is by a paradoxical defaultuntrusted!

So if Digital Identity is not about user’s empowerment, what is it about?

I’d say it’s about the service providers making more money in the virtual-o-sphere. Both Hardt and Ernst mentioned, more than once, the importance of a trusted Digital Identity for the enablement of business transactions (for instance, proving that I’m over 18, that I live in the US, that I have that credit in my bank account etc.) and in the peer-to-peer reality, where business transactions will happen at the edges of the network, a peer-to-peer trust has to exist.

I would therefore suggest that the whenever Identity is discussed in an authentication/authorization context, the user-centric theme should be viewed as nothing but a marketing strategy in the spirit of the current web2.0 Zeitgeist (Identity2.0…). There’s no user-centricity in Identity2.0.


There are other voices and other aspects to Identity. A prominent speaker of this “other Identity” is Marc Canter. My next post will describe his take on the matter.


User-Centric Identity part 1 May 18th, 2006

User-Centric Identity part 2 May 24th, 2006

Original Podlink:

The Story of Digital Identity, episode 27 [part 1]

The Story of Digital Identity, episode 28 [part 2]

technorati3.jpgTechnorati User-Centric Identity, Technorati the Podlink


2 Responses to “P2P Business Platforms and the Story of Digital Identity”

  1. storyofdigid Says:

    I agree with parts of what you’ve written above. However I’m not sure that it’s accurate to sa y that the default is “dis-trust”. That might be true in very high value transactions but I think it’s at least less true in other contexts. For example, I have had many interactions with people involved in digital identity technologies many of whom I’ve never met. Recently I read one of these individuals blog posts and it was clear from that post that they’d benefit from a book that I own. We had an exchange about the book and I offered to lend it to him. He lives in Canada and I in the U.S.

    My default was trust because I’ve built a high degree of trust in this individual without ever having “met” him. While this is only one discrete example, as we spend more of our time online and as systems are more adept at allowing use to expose aspects of our identities in more standardized ways I believe these types of examples will not only increase in frequency, they will also increase in complexity (number of parties involved) and richness (more value being exchanged).

    So perhaps we come to different conclusions about digital identity? I agree that it has a lot to do with marketing and advertising but it has equally profound effects in other areas as well, in my opinion. The second category will clearly take longer to develop that’s for sure.


    P.S. Thanks for the kind words about the podcast and thanks for listening!

  2. Muli Koppel Says:

    Hi Aldo

    Thanks for your comment.

    Probably I don’t get you, but the fact that we’re exchanging ideas about your podcast without knowing each other, seems to me very similar to your book exchange anecdote. And I would attribute this human touch to the social effects of web2.0, or the web as we are currently living in, rather than to Sxip, Yadis or InfoCards…

    Moreover, if you were given the possibility to verify and validate certain aspects of your co-blogger’s Digital Identity, there’s a chance that you wouldn’t engage yourself in that book exchange – who knows, maybe his Reputation would’ve been awful?

    Once we start relying on Information Technologies, we are progressively forgetting our human instincts. With Google we stopped remembering, and with digital identity we just might stop trusting each other. We will let the infrastructure do the judgment for us.

    So yes, I think Digital Identity is critical and essential for Business Transactions, and therefore I assume I’d be using it one day or another. And I think that service providers, who want to make more money, are those who push and finance this effort of Digital Identity and that all this story has nothing to do with the benefit of us, nor that it will give us any control whatsoever on anything.

    To make this story (of digital Identity :-)) short, it is a fascinating theme and I am thanking you for your highly important role in imparting that knowledge.


    p.s. the image’s link is ok now.

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