Defragging identity, disclosures and vendor relationship management

In the afternoon session at the Defrag conference, some old friends took the stage to defrag some things. Dick Hardt is well known for his Identity 2.

In the afternoon session at the Defrag conference, some old friends took the stage to

defrag some things. Dick Hardt is well known for his Identity 2.0 presentation on the state of digital identity. He is the CEO and founder of Sxip Identity, which focuses on Internet-scale identity and access management. Dick unveiled a new version his presentation. His main thesis is that solutions, like OpenID, are necessary to "defrag" identity and bind it to past behaviors to create a world that is accountable, trustworthy and safe, and with users in control in a granular way of their online presence. Unfortunately, the presentation isn't not online yet. Dick said the video would be available in a few weeks. Don't miss it.

Esther Dyson made a proposal during her Defrag talk that marketers give users disclosure messages that are personalized. "Marketers are really good at watching behavior and trying to deliver personalized messages. Why not deliver personalized disclosure messages, what they know about you and why it is you might like this book," she said. In fact, she brought the idea up to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission this week, but was met with some skepticism.

Most consumers don't really know what is going on with their cookie data and digital trails. But, they at least have some idea that marketers know a lot about them, she said. Current disclosure statements today are not very readable (especially in uppercase letters) and most people don't ready them.

However, up and coming consumers are more savvy. "Facebook and other similar tools and platforms have changed the ambient understanding of what personal data is and how to manage it," Esther said. "People are beginning to understand about their own selective disclosure. Why not have a profile visible, or not, to marketers."

One problem in extracting the data is the amount of raw information that has to be turned into disclosure data, and it's often combined with data from other sources. "It's not like a simple replay of what you did, but it should be possible to do this," she said.

Putting control of the data in the hands of consumers should not be by federal mandate, Esther said. She proposes sending the personalized data disclosure meme into the wild by word of mouth--encouraging vendors to start doing it and for consumers to ask for it. That approach will make for a slow movement to pry the personalized data from the grasp of the marketers.

Doc Searls echoed some of Esther's issues in his Defrag presentation, asking why you can't

create your personal profile once instead on n times. "The free market is your choice of silo," Doc said. "The decks are stacked by those who think dependent customers are better than independent customers."

"In real markets customers do more than just consume. They can produce more than just money and data for systems that manage them," Doc continued. "What if we help vendors rather than just carp about them. What if we could relate on our terms and not just on theirs, for the good of both. What if we were to manage our own stuff and relationships with producers and vendors. What if we were in charge of our preferences across whole markets. What if what mattered most were our real intentions, rather than just our attention."

Doc is talking about the vendor relationship management (VRM) project he is working on at the Harvard Berkman Center. The project is creating tools for independence as well as engagement with vendors. Beside tools, some standards that enable consumers to manage some of their identity online would be necessary.

"Its not just the job of sellers to make buyers more capable. We have to work at solving problems from the buyers side as well. Right now this is a big hole in the marketplace, and also a big opportunity," he said. "The customer needs to be the integration point for healthcare data, memberships and other data," he said.

Ross Mayfield of Socialtext anchored the afternoon session with a presentation on social software. We are just recognizing that social networks have a lot of complexity. We are really good at sensing in the social network the relationship and only so much capacity at one time (about 150 relationships at one time), Ross explained. "The greatest pattern of Web 2.0 is sharing control to create value," he said. "We made a huge mistake in making tools that are in peoples' way, trying to create expert structured systems.

Most important decisions cannot be automated. They can be augmented to help make better decisions, he added. "Sharing control over information and transparency is one thing we are learning to be comfortable with. It can lead to more productive decision processes and better decisions."

"We may get to a point where it is common and accepted to share information quite transparently inside the organization. People in the middle of the organization have resisted the most, thinking that hording information gives them an advantage. We found that there is a slight culture shift. People sharing information are at a advantage to those who horde information."

powerlaw.jpg
Ross Mayfield's Power Law of Participation

He gave the example of Radiohead's new album, which let users have it for free or pay what they thought it was worth. The lessons for organizations are to become more transparent and to encourage participation across the organization. "This goes against control instincts that enterprises have," Ross pronounced.

"I can't tell you what a nightmare it is to sell to people who have a publishing mindset. All the features they need, such as security and fine-grained controls, are the exact opposite of what you want for successful collaboration. It's designed for buyers, automating and structuring workflow to drive down cost in areas that should be driven by users and not automated."

The reason [enterprise social software is gaining some traction] is happening now is because there are more choices and education of people as consumers on how to use tools because they are fun and can be applied in their own way. This keeps vendors and CIOs in check, naturally."

Ross recommended that companies prototype and pilot social software, learning from what people do. Otherwise it leads to allowing machines instead of people to make decisions, and there are many areas in which humans are better at that task. "Make the software work more like a cocktail party or play, getting together to share knowledge."