Digital Identity

by Charles Miller on October 25, 2005

"I've noticed that whenever I have a photo on Flickr that I want to embed in my blog, I make a local copy and link to that. Flickr may well out-last the Fishbowl, but at least the continuing availability of my webserver is something that I have a say in." -- Me, a few minutes ago.

I registered the domain back in 1997. Since then I've been through a half dozen or more ISPs and hosting services, but I've done so secure in the knowledge that so long as I keep paying my domain renewal fees, my email address, website and whatever other Internet perks I feel like having will follow me wherever I go.

(There are disadvantages, of course. Even for a non-entity such as myself, eight years of being careless with the one email address leads to a lot of spam.)

I had this conversation with a friend, and they told me not to worry: Gmail is likely to survive longer than I'm going to need an email address anyway. But that's not the point. In five years, Gmail is going to be what Hotmail is today, and there will be another service that's cooler and more capable that people will rather be keeping their email in.

"Letting somebody else own your name means that they own your destiny on the Internet.... As soon as you realize you're serious about blogging, move it away from a domain name that's controlled by somebody else. The longer you delay, the more pain you'll feel when you finally make the move." -- Jakob Nielsen's Weblog Usability mistakes, #10.

Recently, Australian politician Malcolm Turnbull proposed that the government give each citizen a lifetime email address. There were obvious flaws. The proposed address scheme -- first name, surname, date of birth -- consists of two pieces of data that can change, and one that people often want to conceal. Also, there are many circumstances where one might need to mask one’s identity or create a new one (for example, to escape an abuser). Regardless, the underlying concept of a 'digital identity' that stays stable as long as you need it to is an important one. After all, cool URIs don't change.

If there's a Web 3.0, it's not going to be about giving you cool sites to put your stuff on "out there", but about giving you the tools to build that cool stuff on top of your own persistent, personal space on the net... in a way that when the services change, the technology advances and the trends turn, the stuff stays where it is.

Previously: A Couple of Quickies

Next: Woolly Thinking