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Monthly Archives: November 2002

I was talking to some colleagues at lunch today about eBay – the online auction service. eBay is built upon an assumption of trust between users. When two users make a transaction they are encouraged to provide feedback about each other as to how the transaction proceeded. For example, if a user does not send on the sale item having received the money for it then they will receive negative feedback. Following a number of successful transactions a user will have collated a wealth of positive feedback making future transactions more likely. Feedback is stored against a user’s user name (their identity in eBay) and as such a user’s identity can become highly valuable within the eBay community – not financially valuable – but valuable in terms of trust. eBay offer a more detailed description of their services.

Users of the service have related tales of receiving spurious emails from eBay requesting password changes in an attempt to gain access to their accounts. The scammers then use the positive testimonies of the stolen identities in order to cheat other users of the service. This has huge implications for eBay and for current users of the site. It also goes to show just how important online identity can be and how identity theft can become a real issue.

This also got me thinking about the added importance of transferable identities. If a trusted identity has been constructed on eBay, the user can only use that portfolio on eBay. Once the user changes to another site they must begin from scratch with no record of their endeavours on eBay. By introducing a tool that can store identities and allow them to be used cross-site, these issues may be resolved.


Sharing ideas
I was looking at some photos posted following the Social Software Summit in NYC. One of the photos showed someone’s notes about how to share everyone’s photos after the summit. The notes read as follows:

– we’re all taking photos
– all hosted on different services
– we want each other’s photos
– how to find?
– our new products work well if everybody uses them
– that’s not gonna happen
– new service for grouping links to resources

This got me thinking about the implications for the InTouch project. Surely contact details suffer the some inconsistencies across platforms as photos do? In fact you can easily instantiate the word “photos” in the above extract with “contact details”. Different services vary from different software (e.g. Outlook, ACT!, etc.) to different platforms (e.g. Palm, Apple OS X, Microsoft Windows, etc.).

One of the things that InTouch is trying to do is to provide a new service for grouping these resources and allowing the resources to be shared. Perhaps, as the notes from the Social Software Summit suggest, that there is room for expansion of such a service to cover other information besides contact information. Products constantly seem to be put to work by users for purposes other than those intended by the designers. Maybe this is one such purpose for the InTouch project.

A Day in Brighton
I was in Brighton yesterday at a meeting with two designers from Victoria Real (VR) and an interaction designer from COGS at Sussex University. We spent the morning learning how VR gain a sense of a brand’s identity and applying it to the InTouch project. The afternoon entailed a trip around Brighton’s North Laines in order to get a better perspective on young popular culture. Photos were taken and brochures were gathered in order to help familarise ourselves with the culture.

Social Networks: A definition?
Our definition (within the InTouch project) of a social network (SN) has shifted somewhat from the accepted norm. To begin, we saw the SN as the entire list of people with which the ego has any kind of connection – this is the SN analysts view. Our view has come to be more limited – including only people the ego feels close enough to to have contact details, past correspondence and a will to engage in future correspondence. We then added to the notion the concept of sub-social networks – e.g. your work friends SN, your university friends SN, your close family SN, etc. This is the metaphor that we have used for our visualisation.

Online Identity
Identity is only shown prima facie by a textual label e.g. an email address. Typically this is a name (usually this convention is adopted by corporations) e.g. my own email address. This portrays no sense of identity. A practice that has grown out of the corporate world (perhaps to address this lack of identity in email) is to include a signature at the foot of the email. However this functions primarily to show contact details, although may also be used to show the users position within a company (i.e. job title and department).

Recreational web users on the other hand are able to use any format they wish when creating an email address for themselves. A quick survey of the member directory at MSN provides a number of different techniques to showing identity in an email address. The following addresses were found:


These addresses show a diverse set of attributes of their owners ranging from an affiliation to a movie, tv show or genre of music to an emotion or state of being.

Such wide ranging email addresses suggest that users are desparately seeking display an identity online. Textual labels, despite their limitations, can be used to show some forms of identity, albeit somewhat restricted. As so often seems to be the case, users are deviating from the intended use of a product in order to suit their own needs.

Social Networks and Identity
It is important that we understand that we are referring to individual identity and not group identity. The need to create and portray and maintain a unique identity within a group, in order to jusitfy ones position within that group.

What is needed? An attempt at a definition of identity – at least in the context of the paper. Even if this is limited to giving examples.