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On email, logins, idenfiers and identity

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David Cushman asked for my thoughts on his post about finding a way to express our id and metadata outwardly just as broadly and effectively as your email account can collate it centrally.

My first impression was that the question might be about logins or GUID* management based on this:

So if I asked you to write a list detailing what and where, you wouldn’t be able to complete one. And if I asked you to confirm your username and password for each of these – you’d struggle even more.

For the sake of order, let me run through some implications of using email as your GUID to log on everywhere.

  1. your email accesses all web services a la google, which allows me to use gmail to sign in to greader, gdocs etc with the same email/password combo. That’s possible because it comes from the same provider and relatively safer. Obviously, this can’t easily be scaled to other providers of web services or platforms.
  2. I could use my gmail/email as a handle for single sign-on a la OpenID but unless I have a similar infrastructure as OpenID (i.e. a bit of magic in the URL, with my password management under my control) I’d still have passwords stored on other sites and would be back to the same problem as now – too many usernames and passwords… apart from the fact that we eliminate usernames (and have just email instead) and have (potentially) just too many passwords.

But I think David might be trying to get at something else here. I am not sure I see email as my identity or identifier in the sense he describes. It’s certainly a store of my communications and important information from my contacts etc. But to paraphrase an ubergeek: “all applications progress to the point where they can send e-mail”. Danny O’Brien talked about this in the first lifehacking presentation and he had the corollary that people use e-mail for everything, including to-do lists, and even as virtual hard-drives. Resources get used for other than their intention – so looking at e-mail as a “hub”, some sort of nexus of your information might be wrong way around. Instead it’s a resource and it exhibits properties that are useful for many tasks. Your e-mail repository is no more a badge of your identity than is your car or your house.

The closest thing to my ‘identity’ is a mesh of my blogs/blog posts/flickr photos/twitter/dopplr/friendfeed/socnet de jour etc etc. Alas, this ‘identity’ is all fractured across many platforms and in my view needs a unifying point. And those who read my blog already know what my solution to the problem is.

I am not sure a handle (whether URL, username or email) would fundamentally fix my online identity as it’s the stuff I create and distribute that is my identity. I see usernames/passwords/handles/GUID in general as meta-identity or shortcuts to my identity. Just like passport or driving license is not my identity, merely a proxy for it vis-a-vis a particular kind of system or record.

And finally, there seems to be an implicit assumption in what David (and not just him I hasten to add) is saying and that is that my existence on the internet requires a GUID. I don’t think that’s necessarily true but that’s a topic for another post…

*GUID = global unique identifier

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5 Responses to “On email, logins, idenfiers and identity”


  1. david cushman
    on Dec 11th, 2008
    @ 8:52 am

    Hi Adriana, thanks for responding so fully on this. I’m really trying to drive at what might serve to broadcast our metadata outwards beyond all silos as efficiently and effectively as email can collate it from any and everywhere – and of course bigging up the current value of the personal hub that email gives us in advance of our discovery of that :-)


  2. Radovan Semancik
    on Dec 11th, 2008
    @ 9:10 am

    Right! We need some kind of hub, but we do not need GUID. GUIDs can be harmful, even dangerous in case the sites collude to violate my privacy. I think that GUID thinking (like in OpenID) is all wrong.


  3. Mark Hendy
    on Dec 11th, 2008
    @ 12:45 pm

    I agree Radovan. I often use common user names to log onto my online life but there are occasions when I deliberately use psydonyms to log on because I simply don’t want my online identity collected by some sites. At times I will also clear all cookies and browsing history before connecting to certain sites and may even choose to reach it through a proxy or SSH tunnel. The prospect of a GUID horrifies me.


  4. Adriana
    on Dec 11th, 2008
    @ 12:47 pm

    David, Radovan – that’s what Mine! is all about. It’s a hub for your data and as well as mechanism for ‘broadcasting’ it.

    The Mine! project is about equipping people with tools and functionality that will help them:

    1. take charge of their data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),
    2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to their needs and preferences and
    3. share it on their own terms
    4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

    This is what it’s been about all along…
    http://themineproject.org/


  5. idLasso, MeeID and retaggr | VRM Labs | sandbox for playing with emerging VRM tools and technologies
    on Mar 6th, 2009
    @ 9:51 am

    [...] Note*: I often see logins and passwords to various sites and platforms described as “identity”. I don’t think of them as my identity, but as things that I currently need to access bits of my scattered identity, at best they are my meta-identity. I see usernames/passwords/handles/GUID in general as meta-identity or shortcuts to my identity. Just like passport or driving license is not my identity, merely a proxy for it vis-a-vis a particular kind of system or record. More here and here [...]

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