Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Internet Identity

Sometimes it seems to me that "identity" is over-rated. At least when it comes to filling out those online forms which say, "Tell us about yourself" I'm at a loss to know what to put down. I rather admire young digital natives encountered online who seem to know what sort of performance online will say a little something true about them. It used to be that women and girls were the ones who knew what to do in front of a camera lens, that is, had a sense in advance what the picture would look like and what they could do to look good in it. Nowadays this sort of knowledge seems much more widespread. And it seems much more noticeable that I don't get it.

When commenting at blogs I often leave the address for this blog. The thought behind it is so a person could get a glimpse of my identity. I'm afraid the messages this blog leaves about me is an identity crisis, especially so because I update so infrequently these days.

I have meant to get around to posting here. One reason was to try out Blogger's new interface. Holy smokes! The first thing I notice is the blog stats, which I've managed to ignore over the course of blogging here. I was surprised to discover people land on the pages. I wonder why? I guess I'll have a look at that feature later.

Another reason I've wanted to post is because of Google+ and the new additions to Facebook. Both of these places are calling themselves "identity services." Apparently there's an algorithm to say what I have such a hard time saying: Who am I?

Algorithms are powerful, witness Google. Ha, Google has turned 13 which seems an impossibly short amount of time for something which seems so necessary I would have thought it's always been around. When I go to Youtube for a song, I always look for the suggestions because almost always find something remarkable. Still, I'm lacking enough imagination to think an algorithm will really do a good job telling others who I am.

Nowadays when first going to a new Website we're often encouraged to "Sign in with Facebook" or to sign up with an email. Whether or not Google or Facebook are good at serving up our identities, it's certainly true they hold the keys to lots of places online we'd like to hang out and participate. And if my imagination isn't so good about how well these services will do in re my identity online, it's not at all hard for me to worry about what would happen if Facebook and Google decide to "disappear" me. The consequence seems not limited to Google and Facebook, but rather extends to the many sites which they hold the keys for me.

For years I've been reading Dave Winer and other tech luminaries who warn about corporate silos online. I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to technology. I could see the point being made, but was pretty much unwilling to do anything about it, even too lazy to worry. I rather like walled gardens. Over the years I've put stuff up that's nowhere to be found anymore. It is true in a way that the Internet doesn't forget, that nothing which is put up is ever completely lost. The warning back in the old days in school, "That will go on your permanent record!" has got more weight these days with so much stored in digital files online. Still there's lots of writing of mine posted online which I wouldn't mind a copy of, but its retrieval beyond me now. So stuff does get lost, lots and lots of stuff. Mark Brown points out about Geocities:
Within months of announcing the site's closure Yahoo had evicted its tenants and bulldozed more than 38 million user-built homes.
Digital archaeology is a burgeoning field.

Barely computer literate, it still seems to me I ought to pay more attention to the ways to keep the Internet a distributed system. I like open source software, even though my contribution to it hasn't gone beyond using it. Likewise I haven't set up a node with Diaspora but I did sign up for it tonight. It will probably take me a long time to find some utility for it. Terry Handcock's article in Free Software Magazine, Why You Should Join Diaspora Now, Like Your Freedom Depends On It convinced me it was a good idea to sign up.

Meanwhile I've been busy putting my stuff up into silos. I've got a link-blog on Tumblr called Three Good Links. It really consists of me copying quotes and links I put on a neat service I was worried about disappearing one day. I figured that Tumblr probably had a greater likelihood of being around for a while. Tumblr's search function isn't anywhere as good as search on my bookmarking service Pinboard. I copied my bookmarks from Delicious when it leaked that Yahoo was trying to sell it. To my surprise Yahoo did manage to sell Delicious. Not only did they manage to sell it but Chad Hurley and Steve Chen the founders of Youtube bought it! I'm really happy that they saw the potential of Delicious. I'm so lazy that I haven't begun to save bookmarks on Delicious again. But I do check in to see where things are headed over there.

My bookmarks at Pinboard are a mess. I really am never quite sure what I will want to find again one of these days, so I liberally save bookmarks to the place thinking possibly one day I might want to find the page again. Wow, it's a big help to me. Pinboard's funny tagline is "social bookmarking for introverts." It really is a strong and fast service. But the extroverted bit about Delicious is a strength, at least a part of it that interests me. What my Tumblr blog experiment has shown me is that there really is something to the idea of online curation. Ideally I'd like to more or less dump bookmarks on Pinboard and then curate them at Delicious.

A friend recently started a Website where he talks about music called Musicasaurus. Every two weeks he puts up a playlist with great commentary. As an unauthorized activity I've been taking his playlists and matching them as best I can to videos at Youtube. You can see my playlists there if you're interested. I don't think my friend approves, but I've asked him point blank and he hasn't told me not to do it. Something I would do if he approved was to add the tag "Musicasaurus" but that seems his so I don't. Anyhow there's no worry because most of the playlists have exactly zero views. I started out doing this just as a way to hear my friend's playlists. But the addition of video to the music adds something and makes the list different. Even though nobody else is enjoying it, it still seems like a worthwhile activity, an activity that adds some little bit to the common good.

The photo is a screenshot of a wall at Koowall. That particular wall is the Monster Music Blog wall. I don't have any music blogs in my RSS feeds, but I do run across links to pieces at music blogs. And lately when I do I've put a link to the blog over on the Monster Music Blog wall. So far there are almost 150 links to a wide variety of music blogs. The idea of Koowall is people can add text, photos, and videos to walls. Each entry is tagged and there are buttons to send a link to the particular entry to Facebook or a notice via email. The idea is that people who've signed up for Koowall can add content to the various walls and support (like) various entries on the walls. It seems a pretty cool way of sharing and encouraging social production. So far I don't see much sharing, and it doesn't appear to me that unregistered users can see the walls. For all of that the sort of curation I do at Koowall seems worthwhile. I look forward to more people sharing. If anyone wants an invitation send me an message by email and I send you one.

The point of this long ramble is it appears those in the know think that online identity is the big thing. But it seems to me that people sharing, peer to peer production is what seems more important to me. Many of the online silos do facilitate P2P interactions and I use them enthusiastically. But the recent focus on identity over what people produce online is a pretty clear signal that my interests and the interest of large corporations aren't perfectly aligned. It's not that I don't think their algorithms capture a glimpse of my identity. Rather it's that I don't want, and can't really imagine, my identity limited to their algorithms. I guess that means I'll have to start paying a little to support more open and distributed platforms.


DaisyDeadhead said...

My blogspot bio is an amalgam of everything ever said about me. I thought it might be amusing, so I took days thinking about it.. also things said about groups I've belonged to, for instance, Rush Limbaugh refers to "animal rights wackos" (who I usually agree with)... The Yippies were called "outside agitators" and so forth. If Sartre is right, and other people define who we are, I figure a collection of what others have said, is a fair representation of my "identity".. but you would be surprised how many people think its bizarre and ask me why I wrote it that way. It was a Buddhist thing! (BTW, you might find tomorrow's post amusing... or you might not!)...

PS: your "sign up for Diaspora" link isn't working! :P If my future depends on it, need the link!

John Powers said...

I contain multitudes Song of Myself ;-)

Sorry about the link, I looked, but couldn't figure out what was wrong here is the sign up page. Yeah, I'm with you about yet another place online. Still, it seems worth keeping an eye out about these things.

David said...

Enjoyed your long piece about the life and death of computers and all the stuff we have on them . try going to cloud computing - I've changed several computers since the beginning - i wouldn't want to loss my pictures - that's probably the most important thing.

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