Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Applications of Personal Identity

At a time of such scrutiny around national identity, you have to ask yourself for all the promise of this boundaryless electronic world, what's the point of having a digital ID if you can't use it?

The UK, which is driving to 100% government e-service delivery by 2005 thought it had found a bullseye in the Inland Revenue online tax return service. But just because you can do it, it doesn't mean people want it or will will use it right now - and let's generously put to one side the security breach discovered last week on the site which will be forgotten in 3 years time.

The real telling issue - above and beyond security and the much debated threats of centralized control of a networked ID system, which will remain among the basic concerns for any ID system architect - is what do people actually want to use their ID for?

This question has bedevilled designers of digital ID systems. But just like a key is useless without a door, digital ID craves applications, not standards bodies to drive adoption.

However useful and important in the long-term P3P and the emotively-named Liberty Allianceopen participation in policy and standards, they are clearly no substitute for real-world systems and tackling the harder question of giving people simple, easy to use services and compelling reasons to want and use a digital ID.

As DoCoMo, GSM operators, Microsoft, AOL and even the erstwhile Napster (who amassed over 60m IDs at their height), know all to well, the most successful driver of mass network digital ID adoption is without doubt communication:

  • Wireless telephony and SMS
  • E-mail and IM
  • File-sharing

Without person-to-person communication applications to take advantage of a digital ID, the masses simply do not arrive.

As much as private enterprise (banking, shopping, photos, media etc) and governments (tax, health, education etc) may provide applications to stimulate digital ID adoption, there is little to no network effect in these applications.

Personal communications drive networks - maybe the service which will move digital ID past this tipping point will be weblogs and the emergence of a front-end to a two-way, writeable web?

Social publishing is after-all a natural segue between communications and commerce.

Then all we need to watch for is the tragedy of the commons....