Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Digital Identity, Decentralization and User Control

Digital Identity is a subject that sends its tendrils to almost any technology aspect. The current conversations around this topic tend to exalt two architectural principles: Decentralization and User control (or User-Centricity).

Decentralization is usually referred to as a technical and non-functional requirement for an internet-scale architecture, i.e. a scalability and availability concern. Skype (and formerly Kazaa) is known to be "unbreakable" because of this decentralized, peer-to-peer architecture.

But decentralization is tightly coupled with yet another hot potato: that of Net Neutrality, which has its theoretical roots in the way the Internet has evolved – without any central control, resulted in a decentralized way of innovating and creating all kind of "values" at the edges of the network. This paradigm is best described by David Isenberg and David Weinberger in their essay The Paradox of the Best Best Network.

If we're pro-internet (pronetariat), then we should accept its architectural principles and fight against any attempt to control and regulate the network. Control should never be centralized.

At the edges of the network, where things (control and innovation, the whole Web2.0-sphere) take place, we find no other than us – the USERS. So decentralization and net neutrality are very much about Power to the People, or User Control.

Digital Identity talks a lot about these two memes - so it is evidently good. But when I look closer at this issue - I see nothing of these promises, nor am I convinced about its alleged goodness. Personally, my paranoiac nature and skepticism make me wonder if these are not but a more sophisticated sales & marketing campaigns.

If you're interested, I have written two Technopod posts on this subject, with a detailed argumentation. You can find them (as well as listening to their underlying podcasts) here: P2P Business Platforms and the Story of Digital Identity, and Identity2.0 Illusion of Control.

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