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Identity Fragmentation

13 November 2007 5 Comments

A few weeks ago I joined Facebook (after much resistence). Facebook sucks you in, making it so easy to give up bits of information about yourself, many times without even realizing it. It occurred to me that I’m leaving pieces of my identity everywhere.

Last night I took a stab at listing out the various entities that know me, regardless of how they know me. The list is overwhelming. It quickly became apparent that to develop a comprehensive list was not feasible. What I ended up with was a good all around representation. I then generalized it to include things not solely pertaining to me as an individual (e.g. I’m an immigrant, I can never have govt clearance).

With all the talk of identity and claims federation, this was a good way to step back and at least understand the problem space a little better. I’m sure there are other such diagrams out there but the benefit for me was to go through the process of drawing it rather than take one off the shelf.

Here’s the diagram, it turns out there are bits of us EVERYWHERE!!! Click for a larger view [LINK].
My Fragmented Identity
I’ve tried to group the entities (blue) by function or core competency(green). It could be inferred I suppose that similar entities would require similar forms of assurance around the claims they’re willing to accept. For example, to establish an XBox Live Gamertag doesn’t require the same degree of assurance around identity as opening a bank account. But on the other hand, Digg might be quite willing to accept my Facebook ID.

In theory these entities could share Identity Providers. I believe we’ll start to see this quite soon in the social networking space most likely through OpenSocial.

Ultimately, Identity Providers themselves will begin to exchange claims although it’s questionable if this is an appropriate model.

This is by no means a complete model. I worry that I’ll never be able to effectively manage all the pieces of me that I’m absent-mindedly handing out.


  • Pamela said:

    I *love* that diagram. Personally, I have given up on managing my social networking space. I tried to make boundaries that seemed useful – but maintenance was more work than the value of the data I sought to manage.

    I knew it was a slippery slope when I started. Knowing didn’t keep me from sliding though.


  • Trey Tomeny said:

    I believe Identity Providers need to be separate, focused entities whose existence is dependent upon high trust identity provision. Instead of letting everyone know a little about you, let one (or a few) carefully chosen Identity Providers know everything about you. They then vouch for your identity across the web.

    My proposal is at http://replacegoogle.com

  • Charles Nouÿrit said:

    That’s exactly what we’re trying to do at MyID.is, soon in private alpha 😉

  • Johannes Ernst said:

    You forgot Healthcare: 20% of GDP. Here is a picture showing just the healthcare part of it (slightly different view than just identity data, but all of the listed items do have identity data at least attached to them) http://netmesh.info/jernst-files/health-consumer-in-the-center.jpg

  • Richard McLaughlin said:

    you should try making a mind map of you.

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