Reaching Critical Mass

Most people only look into new technologies or methods when they think they are nearing critical mass in deployment and/or usability. Where is identity on this curve, and how can we measure its progress on the various trend lines that matter?

During the dot com boom, one of the most widely referenced business books was Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm. Many back then saw this mostly as the basis for their marketing plan, forgetting that an underlying product was required. But as subsequent books like Malcom Gladwell's Tipping Point indicate, it does touch on a fundamental concept about when and why people start to pay attention in significant numbers to (and begin significant adoption of) new technologies and business trends. At Digital ID World, we spend a lot of time gathering and analyzing stories to put in perspective not only what identity technology will enable, but where it is on its journey towards reaching critical mass, and whether it is gaining or losing momentum.

Identity technology and adoption is evolving on many "trend curves" simultaneously; some technological and some based on awareness of its applicability to the various symptoms of the internet's current identity deficit. These trends fork into many sub-trends based on business sectors and business models, but they tend to fall into four large and somewhat overlapping "buckets" as follows:

  • empowerment/enablement (allowing new business models and capability)
  • security/manageability (making whatever you are doing on the network operate more predictably as you intend it to and allowing you to prove who did what with what data when that is required)
  • cost/convenience (reducing the cost and/or enhancing the convenience of networked applications)
  • privacy - (integrating more closely with participants while simultaneously protecting against unwanted disclosures of their personal information)

Two weeks ago I was at the Internet Identity Workshop, a gathering of "the identerati" who are at the center of designing and deploying identity technology. This week I'm at Syndicate, a gathering of the "contenterati" focused on how such internet technologies as blogs, vlogs, RSS, etc. are transforming the business models of publishing, advertising, and PR. Through these two lenses, I've been looking at identity trends from the extremes of the technology itself and the emerging applications that require identity to truly release their value or apply themselves to new business models.

From these two extremes some very clear indicators arise of where identity is on its growth curve, and how near it is to critical mass on several different vectors. Identity technology is today nearing critical mass on the enterprise security and manageability curve. Driven by increasing regulatory requirements, identity management has deployed in some form at most very large companies, and new technologies and methodologies are reducing the cost of such deployments enough that this technology is moving down market in a way that indicates critical mass is quite near indeed.

More interesting, however, is to observe the number of business models that have been disrupted by the internet, but where the disrupting technologies don't yet have identity technology they can reasonably leverage to release their value propositions beyond a sort of early demonstration phase. At both of these conferences I hear things that indicate this will soon be changing - likely by late this year or early next year.

Meanwhile, the symptoms of identity deficit will be felt by the disruptive technologies - often without being aware what is causing them. This is building pressure so that when newer identity technologies that match the needs becomes available, it will find a ready ecosystem to deploy within. So what I see from these two extremes is that we are nearing many tipping points in the next two years or less, where disruptive technologies combined with appropriate identity technologies will create real business model disruption in many industries very rapidly.

Syndicate is showing that the desires are turning to learing how to monetize community, attention, and relationships generated by new technology. IIW showed that identity technology is rapidly transforming itself to become able to mold to these new business models without creating user distress. Together, they are approaching the point when they will suddenly release value in a way never seen before.

As usual, this will look like it happened overnight. But it will only come as a surprise to those who weren't paying attention, or who were trying to hold on to the older business models and see themselves being passed by those "upstarts" who learn the new ones early in their cycle.