pseudonyms

A trust network is the only thing that is safe against marketing.

Any individual person who becomes popular enough as an expert on a particular topic, will normally be commercialized into a product which can be sold. At that point you have to start looking at where they get their “corporate donations” from in order to interpret what they say.

How do I tell if an music album is good? I can find a forum, and look for what people have written about it. How do I know if the people writing about it know what they’re talking about? Well I can try to guess based on how they write, and what they say.

But maybe they know a lot about blues and jazz, and for some reason they decide to review a rock album? I’ve been playing around with Orkut recently. You can hook up with people and places you know, and reveal information about your self in a controlled way to people whom you name as “friends”.

When I read a message someone wrote about an album, I want to be able to go find out about them. Do they like music? How *much* do they like music. What kind of music do they like? How old are they? Are there interests like mine? Do they like other music that I like?

On the other hand, maybe the person who posted the review was just a scammer with a temporary account trying to boost sales? It would be nice to have a way to know if that’s true.

I am hopeful that in the next 10 years the idea of federated identity (aka “single-sign-on”) will become popular. Remember the book Ender’s Game? In that fictional story (science fiction) two people who were very well known and very influential in world politics were completely anonymous. Well not anonymous really, that’s the whole point. They were pseudonymous. They were well known personalities but nobody happened to know who they were in real life. The kind of protection this can give to free speech is mind boggling.

Any loony can post his or her ideas anonymously. If they reveal facts that can be checked by others, then they might spark a debate that can turn into something real. But free speech doesn’t really work unless you have free discussion. And to do that, you have to trust someone with your identity (whether it’s a re-mailer or a website).

If we had ubiquitous PKI (public key infrastructure), you wouldn’t have to trust anyone. You create a public/private key pair, register it with a made-up name, and you can carry on conversations for years, and let people get to know you without needing to reveal your true identity. If the website you’re using gets shut down (as they often do), you can use your same identity on another web site, just by signing your messages with the same key.

The only compelling reason to sell federated identity to Joe Six-pack is by telling him he doesn’t have to remember 100 passwords anymore. But I have higher hopes. Once the software becomes standardized I expect there to be trustable “repositories” for pseudonymous identities. This will be a step in the right direction.

–chris

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