John Battelle On The Importance of Aggregating The Digital Content We Post In Walled Gardens

The Internet Is Open
As we spread our digital content across the Internet, through separate services that we do NOT control, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Quora, how do we aggregate all that information somewhere where we DO control the content? So as to preserve our "identity" formed by that collective work?

That is at the heart of John Battelle's great piece yesterday, "We Need An Identity Re-Aggregator (That We Control). I've written at some length over the years about the re-emergence of online "walled gardens" and the need for us to maintain our own identity on the web. I've also spoken about this on any number of FIR reports I've submitted... and to me John really nails it with this paragraph:

The downsides of not owning your own words, on your own platform, are not limited simply to money. Over time, the words and opinions one leaves all over the web form a web of identity - your identity - and controlling that identity feels, to me, a human right. But unless you are a sophisticated netizen, you're never going to spend the time and effort required to gather all your utterances in one place, in a fashion that best reflects who you are in the world.

As he notes further on in the piece, even if you link to your contributions on one of those services, should that service disappear all your content is lost.

Over the past few months, I've been trying to change my behavior a bit and revert my own writing to how it used to be. I'm trying to post messages on my own blogs FIRST and then linking to it from the other services.

Even this post... I could have left it as a comment on John's blog, or as a reply inside of Facebook or Google+... but instead I am posting it here it is on a platform that I control.

It's hard... the various services make it seductively convenient just to have all your interaction within the walls of that service. And I certainly do have some level of conversation within those walls. But for longer content - or commentary that I want to preserve, even in the form of links to other sites with some comment, I'm trying to do more of that from my own sites. Kind of like how "blogging" was back about 5+ years ago before we got all caught up in these new shiny services that we all enjoy so much.

Meanwhile, I, too, would love to have a "meta service" along the lines of what John suggests...

Image credit: jeremybrooks on Flickr

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Why The "Nym Wars" Matter - Preserving Pseudonymity On An Open Internet

Identity (Clone trooper Tales #44)

There's an identity war going on out on the Internet right now... there are multiple aspects to it... but the key is that:

it is a battle for control of YOUR identity!

Think of any website you've visited lately that has offered you the ability to "Login with Facebook" or "Sign in with Twitter".

It's simple. Easy. Convenient.

And dangerous.

Because in embracing the convenience of such services (and I am certainly guilty of this myself), we surrender control of our identity to the identity provider.

But that is a broader topic for a much longer piece I want to write...

Right now I want to touch on the point:

What if the "identity provider" won't let you use what you consider your "real" identity?

What if the identity provider requires you to use your "birth name" (or "real name") instead of the name that everyone knows you as?

Welcome to the world of pseudonyms... persistent identities used by people instead of the names they were given at birth.

Pseudonyms have been with us for eons... as noted above, authors and entertainers have long used them. In fact, a pseudonym was involved with the founding of the United States.

And this pseudonymity is exactly what is at stake in what is being tagged as the "#nymwars" on Twitter.

This latest battle in the much larger war really began back on July 22nd, when Kirrily Robert, a developer (and former co-worker of mine) who has gone by the pseudonym "Skud" for many years, was suspended from Google+ for not using her real name and took to her blog to publicize this fact. There have been literally hundreds (and maybe thousands) of articles on the topic posted between then and now... with the most recent wave being about Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comments that Google wants you to use your real name because they want to be an identity provider... and do things with that "real identity" of yours.

This battle isn't just about Google+, though. Facebook would also like you to only use your "real name" and to have you assert only your "real" identity.

I could go on at great length about why this is a bad idea, but would instead point you to this excellent but lengthy piece:

Read it... and then go back and read it again. A powerful piece laying out so many of the reasons why pseudonymity is important.

And a key point is:

Pseudonymity is NOT anonymity.

There is an entirely separate discussion to be had around true anonymity... and the value therein - or not.

But that is entirely different from the idea of a persistent identity that one uses as a replacement for one's "real name".

Should we not have the right to use the name that people know us by on these services?

The response, of course, is that using these services is optional and you can, of course, choose NOT to participate in Google+... or Facebook... or whatever other service requires you to use your "real name".

And obviously that is an option.

But what if many of the conversations I want to participate in have moved to one of those services? What if all my friends are sharing photos using some new service... and I can't because I'm forced to use a different identity than what I want to use?

What if I am an author or entertainer and want to engage on that service with my fans through the persona I use?

What if that service is the only way to communicate out of my country or region and using my real name may get me killed?

Pseudonymity matters.

Control over our identity matters.

The ability to control the identity we choose to use on services on the Internet matters.

The war for our identity will continue to rage... will the victor be the organizations who control the services we want to use? or will we retain the right to control our identity?

Your choice...

Other good articles worth reading:

Image credit: koisny on Flickr

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Using TypePad Connect now to let you comment with your accts from Twitter, Facebook, OpenID or more

Earlier this week I enabled "TypePad Connect" for this blog and my Disruptive Telephony blog so that you can now sign in when commenting using your "identity" from TypePad, Twitter, Facebook, OpenID, or many others. Nicely, you can also, of course, simply enter in your name, URL, etc. like you always could before on this blog. The difference is that now down above the comment field you should see this:

If you click on the "more..." link, you will be taken to a site to choose the account you want to use:


I'm particularly pleased about the ability to support OpenID, something I've written about both here and over on Disruptive Telephony, although that's not particularly surprising given Six Apart's support for OpenID in the past.

There's a larger story to be written here about TypePad Connect and how it is part of the greater battle going on both with regard to your "identity" across blogs and also where your comments are stored. The Read/Write Web had a great article on the topic a year ago when TypePad Connect first came out. For me, since both this blog and DisTel are already hosted on TypePad, the issue about having your comments reside on TypePad's servers is irrelevant, really, since they already are. Another time, though, I'll write more on the larger story.

In the meantime, feel free to leave comments through being logged into those services (and saving yourself filling out the form).

For those wanting to know more about TypePad Connect, there is a video on the main page and also previous TypePad blog posts in November 2008 and January 2009 that go into more detail.

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Is "family identity" dead? (In a communications form)

Is the concept of "family identity" dead in terms of communications?

As I was thinking about my talk tonight over the weekend and how the ways in which we communicate are changing, one of the themes that kept emerging was what I'd call "The Death of Family Identity".

Think about it... once upon a time, there were primarily two ways that people would communicate with members of a household (outside of the obvious one of knocking on the front door):

  1. Postal mail
  2. Telephone

In both cases, there was one "address" for the family... either the postal address or the phone number. In either case, you could contact "the Yorks", for instance, by sending a letter to the address or by calling the family phone number. The mail or phone might be picked up by any member of the family, but it could be shared or passed along to other members of the family. Mom, dad, brothers, sisters, friends or whomever lived there... anyone could potentially see the mail or get the phone call.


Let's take the phone. My parents have had the same phone number for 35 years. Growing up, anyone could have called that number and reached either of my parents, myself or my brother. That was the number to call us on. Period. End of story. And while there were certainly some disadvantages to this approach... busy signals (pre-call-waiting), messages not being delivered, people listening in on extensions... there was also a solid sense of "identity". You could leave a message there and someone in the family would get it. If it was urgent, someone could try other ways to reach the person - or could provide info about where the person was.

Fast forward to today... mobile phones are ubiquitous and traditional "landlines" are being shed at a rapid pace. As today's mobile-phone-using college generation starts to buy homes, will any of them actually bother with a landline? What's the point? The mobile phone lets you receive your calls wherever you are. No more messages that aren't communicated to you by a family member... no more busy signals because your sibling is on the phone...

Personally, I wouldn't invest in the landline biz... sure, many of those who have them in their houses today will keep them until you pry the handset out of their cold, dead fingers... but that's a market that's capped. And many of us who have them may move... if I can eventually figure out a solution for fax and 911, I'll probably cut the cord, too.

But let's think about that in terms of "family identity":

  • Mobile numbers are individual - Each person has a mobile phone. Mom, dad, brother, sister... everyone has their own phone with their own number. For families who have "cut the cord", how do you just leave a message for the family? Say you want to invite them over for dinner... how do you just leave a general message? You can't... you have to call one of the individuals. Or maybe you call a couple. (Or maybe you just text them all.) It's no longer simple.

  • Mobile phones are less reliable - Your ability to reach the family members assumes, of course, that their mobile phones are reachable. Batteries die and need to be recharged. Phones are lost. Someone is traveling in an area with bad coverage (recall that I live in the wireless backwater known as the United States). Voicemail messages may not be delivered in a timely fashion. None of these were generally issues with traditional landlines.

  • Mobile phone numbers change - How many mobile phone numbers have you had in the last, say, five years? Some of you may still have the same numbers, but odds are most of you reading this have gone through several numbers. Either because you switch carriers and cannot move your number... or it's just too much of a pain in the neck and it's just easier to get a new one. Or you wanted that shiny new phone that another carrier had and so you wound up with two mobile phones? Regardless of the reason, there is more churn in mobile numbers. Anyone seriously think they'll have the same mobile phone number for 35 years?

So in a world without home landlines, how do you reach "the Yorks"? Sure, you could set up a "family number" through an abstraction layer like Google Voice that would ring all family phones... but how many people are actually going to do this?


Do I even need to discuss it? When was the last time any of you reading this wrote an actual "letter" to someone and mailed it in the postal service? When is the last time you received a personal letter?

Messages are sent online... either through "e-mail" or IM or increasingly through services like Facebook, etc. And all of those media have the same issues as mobile phones: they are almost always individual, they are less reliable, they change.

Gone are the days of the sending a letter to "The Yorks". Now you have to cc a bunch of email addresses and hope they all get there... or rely on someone in the family to send it to everyone.

(And sure, some of us, myself included, still engage in this quaint, anachronistic custom of sending "Christmas cards" to a family, but even there I've increasingly seen friends and family reciprocating with "e-cards"... that time is probably limited, too.)


Is "family identity" dead in our brave new online world of 2009? Does it matter? Are we better of with the convenience we have today and the ways we have to connect as individuals?

I don't know the answer. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it does. Maybe it's just another aspect of the changing fabric of our society where we don't yet understand the full ramifications as we continue our evolution into the cloud... Part of me feels like we are losing something... but the pattern isn't fully clear.

What do you think?

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Of choosing a new image/avatar - and wondering why we choose the images we do?

So I'm thinking of changing the "avatar" image I use across all my blogs and social networks.

In truth, I quite like the current image I have been using (pictured on right), because I'm not really a big fan of most of the pictures of me that are out there. But with this particular one I like the profile... I'm almost smiling... and the purple and pink background is distinctive. My image can easily be found in a batch of other images. I'm also looking to the right, which is again just different from so many of the other images out there.

This image has worked well for me as I've used it across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, all my various blogs, my Gravatar, and basically every other social network I'm in (and I'm in a lot as part of my job). Given that "Dan York" is a rather generic name in English, and that there are a good number of other "Dan Yorks" out there, I've tried to use one image everywhere so that when people see my account on some service, they have a very easy visual clue that it is, in fact, the Dan York they know. It's part of my online identity... a bit of personal branding, etc.

However, there's a fundamental problem with the image - I only have it in low resolution.

And in fact, very low resolution. For all the many positive comments I've received about that particular image, the truth is that it is simply a screen capture of a random frame in a video interview that Jeff Pulver did with me back at Fall VON in October 2007. That's it. A screen capture of a web video. No pro photographers. Nothing like that.

The problem is that when conferences ask me for a "headshot", in my ideal world I'd like to give them the same shot that I have on my website and social networks... but I can't give them this one. So I need a new image for which I also have a higher resolution image.

I've thought of going to a local photographer for a shoot... and I may still do that, but as I wrote about over on a Voxeo blog, I was fortunate to have some great shots taken of me out at eComm by photographer Duncan Davidson (click any of the images to jump to his site - you can then click between the images on his site):


(And do check out the rest of the eComm 2009 image gallery - I'm quite impressed by Duncan Davidson's work.)

As Duncan has very kindly given speakers permission to use them for headshots, blogs, etc., I'm now toying with using a cropped version of one of those shots. Something like maybe one of these:

danyork1-1.png danyork3.png danyork2.png danyork8-1.png

I'm thinking maybe the last one... mostly because it's off-center a bit. What do you think?

All of this got me thinking and wondering these thoughts:

  • What do you like in an avatar shot?
  • What made you choose the one that you are using now?
  • Do you like close-up images or farther away?
  • Do you like just the person in them or with other people/kids/significant-others/animals?
  • Serious? Funny? Muted backgrounds? Distinct backgrounds? Posed? Casual?
(Or are you perhaps not the over-analyzing, over-thinking type that I am and just put up random shots and change them around all the time?)

There's no right answer, of course... in this world of social media we all get to choose this part of our online identity... and that persona can of course change and morph over time as we ourselves do. Still, I find it interesting to think about - why do we choose the images we do?

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TechCrunch: Is OpenID being exploited for PR purposes by the "Big Internet Companies"?

BBA831C6-CAD7-498F-9164-AC5BA8FEADD7.jpgAre the Big Internet Companies (AOL, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft) really committed to OpenID or are they merely exploiting it for PR purposes? That's the question Mike Arrington asks today over on TechCrunch.

When I last wrote about OpenID back in January, that was pretty much my same question in: "Yahoo supports OpenID... Yaawwwnnn... when can I *login* to Yahoo! services with OpenID?". As I recounted in that post, I have no problem with getting an OpenID identity. In fact, the problem if anything is that I have too many options for OpenID identities! I can use my own site, my LiveJournal account, my Yahoo account, my AOL/AIM account, etc.

But where can I use my OpenID?

That remains the key question. I want to consolidate my various accounts behind one (or a few) OpenID accounts. I want to be able to login to my Google account with the same OpenID that I use to login to my Yahoo account, my AOL/AIM account, my LinkedIn page, other websites (and heck, why not Facebook, too?)

This is Arrington's point, really. The "Big Internet Companies" are issuing news releases about their support for OpenID, but are only going halfway. So his point is... is this really just good PR for these companies? That they can use it to look good, but not actually help move OpenID along.

The challenge, of course, is that the "Big Internet Companies" would all like to be that "one account" that I use. They would like to be your "home" on the Internet. So on one level there is a severe DISincentive for them to start accepting OpenIDs for login. If they start accepting OpenID logins, users might potentially use an OpenID account of one of the other Big Internet Companies that have not yet opened up. So if Google opens up first and lets logins via OpenID, users might all use Yahoo accounts as their OpenID. If Yahoo opens up first, users might use a Google account.... and so on.

It's almost like there needs to be an "OpenID Big Bang Day" when all the big players start accepting OpenID logins. At the agreed-upon time, all the Big Internet Companies start letting people login with an OpenID URL. No one is disadvantaged. Users can just start using whichever account they want. (In fact, maybe the Big Internet Companies might then start offering reasons why they are the better OpenID provider?)

In the meantime, I expect we'll probably continue in the current state.... many Open ID providers... not as many places to use them. (And yes, I do realize there are an increasing number of smaller sites that are accepting OpenID.)

More coverage today:

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Yahoo supports OpenID... Yaawwwnnn... when can I *login* to Yahoo! services with OpenID?

BBA831C6-CAD7-498F-9164-AC5BA8FEADD7.jpgThe big news in the blogosphere today is that "Yahoo Implements OpenID; Massive Win For The Project". Indeed, Yahoo announced that all 248 million Yahoo! accounts would be able to sign in to OpenID-enabled sites using their Yahoo! ID.


Now don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of OpenID. I've written about it both here and on DisruptiveTelephony. I was part of a long podcast about OpenID security. I subscribe to the mailing list. My home site is configured to be an OpenID provider. So is my work blog site.

But that's the point, really...

We don't really need more OpenID providers - we need sites that will accept OpenID!

Here are all the OpenID providers that I can currently use (at least, the ones I remember):

  • (and several variants on this URL)
  • as well as a couple of other AOL screen names (per AOL's support)
  • and now my Yahoo! account

I obviously have absolutely ZERO problem getting an OpenID.

The problem I have is using one of my OpenIDs. Here's the companion list of where I can use my OpenID on a regular basis:

  • leave a comment on a Blogger blog (but I already have a Google account that I'm usually logged into)
  • leave a comment on a LiveJournal blog (but I already have a LJ account)
  • login to Plaxo (but I had an account there that pre-dates their OpenID support, and yes, I know I can tie them together)
  • login to to create a RSS-to-Twitter stream
  • leave comments on random other blogs that support OpenID

And... and... and... ???

Now, granted, it's nice to be able to leave those comments... but that's not a whole lot of usefulness out of my zillion different OpenIDs. Yes, I know there is are directories of OpenID-enabled site (for example, here and here). If I ever want a quick wiki page, I know there are half a dozen Wiki sites that let you create one with an OpenID. But here's the thing... I don't use those sites that are listed. Now, maybe I should, as a way of thanking them for their OpenID support, but I don't.

On one level, I'm thrilled that Yahoo is becoming an OpenID provider. It is a huge endorsement for the protocol. But I'd be far happier if Yahoo was announcing that I could login to their sites with an OpenID. Let me choose one of my OpenIDs and let me use that as the one to use to login to my Flickr account, and my Yahoo!Messenger and my Yahoo!Mail and and all the other sites that Yahoo! owns. THAT would be something to be incredibly excited about.

As it is, I fear that some % of those 248 million Yahoo! users will investigate what this OpenID site is all about and find that... well.. there aren't a whole lot of places they can really use it.

That is what we need. (And what sites like SpreadOpenID, which is unfortunately down for maintenance, are all about.)

When will Yahoo! go the next step and let us use our OpenIDs on Yahoo! sites? (I agree with Marshall Kirkpatrick that they probably won't anytime soon.)

P.S. And yes, I'm trying to do my part and get my work blog site to support OpenID for comments.

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Don't understand why we NEED "data portability"? Watch this video...

If you don't yet understand why the walls need to come down between social networks, here is this great video from Michael Pick of Smashcut Media (first seen on Particls.Blog):
DataPortability - Connect, Control, Share, Remix from Smashcut Media on Vimeo.

Indeed... this kind of portability is exactly what we need. We need to have control over our own information and network. Join the conversation over at

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May the walls start to come down... Facebook joins with Google and Plaxo in joining

dataportabilitylogo.pngAs I've written about in the past, I continue to remain concerned that social networks are really just "walled gardens" that are isolated from each other. Late last week, Robert Scoble getting temporarily kicked out of Facebook brought the attention of many of us to "" and its "dataportability-public" Google Group. Now, today brings word that Facebook, who has usually been a holdout in "open" announcements to date (like OpenSocial) will be joining in to the project. The news can be found here:

The news is outstanding, really, for those of us who want this kind of data portability. To have basically all the major players working together will be excellent. It would, indeed, be great to have the walls start coming down...

The devil, of course, lies in the details... time will tell whether true actions will emerge out of the initiative.

Still, it's a great way to start - and I've definitely joined the GoogleGroup mailing list to join in the evolution. Let's see if the walls can shake a bit, eh?

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Next week - Internet Identity Workshop 2007B in Mountain View, CA

200711301235As I've written here (and on Disruptive Telephony) in the past about the need for improved management of our online identity, I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of the Internet Identity Workshop on Monday - Wednesday of next week in Mountain View, California. We need to get it right. If you are out there in the area and can attend, I'd highly recommend it. (I won't be there as I'll be up in Vancouver at IETF 70.)

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