Monthly Archives: September 2006

Presentation of Self

A casual model of identity presumes that it is about self, but it’s not. Identity is about multiple actors. For example, typical usage of identity cards requires three actors, i.e. the card’s holder, issuer, and the reader. All the internet embeded identity protocols follow a similar pattern. PGP keys have the same three players. Those who sign your key fill the role of card issuer.

All of that reminds me of the seventies television detective who would carry an assortment of business cards from which he could pick the identity he wanted to adopt prior to questioning a witness. I can’t help thinking of him each time some spammer offers me yet another 50 free business cards. When I have worked for older companies they always had a business card policy, while these days you can pretty much design your own, which can lead to trouble.

At the optometrist the other day another customer was selecting glasses that would make her younger in the evenings and older when she was in front of her students. The optometrist related the story of how he has people come in seeking short term rentals of glasses, say for an interview. So there is a huge subtext of style, fashion, and the like off to one side here. Riding the subway it’s facinating to observe how carefully crafted some people’s presentation of self is.

All of which has gotten me thinking about ways that people present themselves in the internet. I can’t recall when email software first came to support automatically appending a signature file; it certainly goes back a long way. The finger/.plan file scheme, according to wikipedia, goes back at least to 1971. I seem to recall something similar on the Dartmouth basic system in the late sixties.

What triggered writing this post was noticing some interesting examples where the identity issuer role is about enabling the shaping of who you are more than authenticating who you are. That’s interesting from the point of view of the business modeling of identity systems since the issuer role is, presumably, the only really profitable role in this industry. Credit card and check printing companies do a bit of this when they let you select which cat picture to put on your card or check.

Web forums do this by allowing users to select the avatar. I’m shocked, at this point, that there doesn’t appear to a number of firms trying to capture forum avatar market. Why, for example, can’t I stick something into my account settings at the model train forum which so that my avatar there is based on my flickr photos of my train set? Or my delicious tag cloud around my train tag?

In point of fact there is a huge amount of this going on. Here are two examples.

It looks to me like Ticker Factory’s first users were hanging out in child birth forums. What ticker factory lets you do is put a simple chart into your signature showing progress toward a goal. These are very simple, here is one from a weight loss forum.

I find it notable that most of the data, the parameters, reveal not the data but information about the person’s style.

For a while if you typed “doll” on google it would suggest that you’d might have actually meant to type “dollz“, and even today the top hit for “dolls” is not about dolls. When I first stumbled on the dollz movement I thought it was a kind of online paperdoll, which it is. but it’s actually about creating avatars and signatures. It’s discussed at wikipedia, where this provocative sentence appears.

The first instances of cartoon dolls showed up in 1995 as avatars made for use on a visual chat client called The Palace by a Palace user named artgrrl (later known as shattered innocents)
.” Should of listened to her mother I guess. The dollz/avatar business appears to be huge. I wonder how much market concentration has already happened?

Notice that both of these examples have a tiny bit of advertising in the resulting image. Sites like flickr and delicious accumulate quite extensive models of their users and that ought to enable them to offer services like these that are more informed about who the person is. You can inject these feedburner widgets into forums and email signatures.

I guess I don’t know where this posting is going. Maybe I should ramble on about christmas cards next.

Like Things

Here’s an interesting game: find a book on Amazon who’s “also viewed” relatives are particularly diverse and distinctive from the first book. In this example a book on the Challenger disaster (i.e. it looks into the question was the Nasa culture embracing increasing risk over time) that is paired with a book on how the law treats the economic under currents of intimate relationships (for example does a Husband have rights to his patents granted to his wife), a book on story telling’s role in political movements, and finally a book that looks into what pleasures a criminal finds in his craft.

My first reaction when I saw this set what WTF, but actually it makes sense. These would all make fine selections for a geeky Social Sciences book of the month club. Which isn’t a bad first approximation of what I’m into these days.

Melting Web Traffic

Over at the Alexa blog at the tail end of a rambling post about the competition for the #2 spot in their ranking we find the following provocative statement:

…over the last six months the Reach and Pageview numbers for both of these giants has been declining, along with Yahoo, in the Alexa stats. That isn’t to say that their overall users or page views are declining, rather that their percentage of the overall traffic on the Web is shrinking.

Markets condense for lots of reasons. Fast growing markets condense because the rapidly entering new customers lack information to guide thier choices leading them to mimic exisiting market players, i.e. you get strong preferential attachment. That concentration of market share can be quite durable since the winners will then work to lock those customers in. As the market matures knowledge about the vendor/customer relationship increases. Vendors get better at managing lock-in while customers become more knowledgable about how to shop.

The relationships that define an industry’s structure. Market share is a metric of the vendor/buy relationships for a particular class of vendors. Individual relationships can come and go, but they tend toward durable. A particular class of relationships is quite durable; which makes market share something dependable. That stablity allows firms to plan their capital expenditures confidently; i.e. it lowers their risk. From a planning point of view how your industry is consilidating or not is as important as if your industry’s market is growing or shrinking.

So I’m particularly bewildered that Alexa doesn’t track and chart an actual measure of how condensed the traffic is.

Trader Reputation

Presumably as the internet identity problem get’s solved services will emerge that can cough up tiny nuggets of information about those identities. Did zippy_133_a go to Harvard? Is sweet_thing_341 over 18 years of age? What percentage of wild_boy_12’s comments to blogs were flagged as spam, offensive, angry? Ebay, for example could provide a service that provides information about an identities’ feedback at there, i.e. “bought 10 items for a value 312$ with 100% positive feedback, sold 3 items for 17$ 33% positive feedback, 66% no feedback recieved.”

I was pleased to discover there is another trading reputation server: Heatware. Heatwave is used by folks that buy, sell and trade in internet venues other than eBay. Since you can click around in their user database it’s easy to find the high volume traders, for example this quy. Since traders here post their persona’s in various trading sites this also provides a directory of trading venues other than eBay. I’ll note in passing that forces accounting linking across the persona, which I consider to be unfortunate.

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this.

Now Heatware should not be confused with Heatwave, who makes giant vacum+microwave chambers used to dry your lumber so you can sell it immediately.

Bad Plutocrats, No Cookie!

Back for a moment on the left/right (aka little/big-economic entity) distinction. Consider a treaty who’s name is something along the lines of ‘Treaty to protect the rights of X.” Now, imagine the X that that is furthest to the right. ‘Treaty to protect the rights of Bill Gates?” ‘Treaty to protect the rights of the G7?’ How about: ‘Treaty to protect the rights of Broadcast Organizations‘?!?

Which brings us to a related question; how does the Plutocracy feel about the demotion of Pluto? Heavens, if they can organize to eliminate the death tax you’d think they could get it together to for this!

Sell signals

Statement from Billy Campbell, President, Discovery Networks, U.S. Discovery Communications, Inc

Our entire company is deeply saddened by the tragic and sudden loss of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. Steve was beloved by millions of fans and animal lovers around the world and was one of our planet’s most passionate conservationists. He has graced our air since October 1996 and was essential in building Animal Planet into a global brand.

What a legacy! “Building a global brand!”

A Gang of One

Here’s a fun variant of the repeated prisoner’s dilemma game.

Picture a lecture audience. I announce that I’ll go along every row, starting at the front, and give each member a chance to say “cooperate” or “defect.” Each time someone says “cooperate” I’ll award ten cents to her and to everyone else in the audience. Each time someone says “defect” I’ll award a dollar only to her. And I ask that they play this game solely to maximize their individual total income, without worrying about friendship, politeness, the common good, etc. I say that I will stop at an unpredictable point after at least twenty players have played, at which time each member can collect her earnings.

You gotta love the instruction not to be “worrying about friendship, politeness, the common good, etc.” The game creates a group out of the audience with all the group dynamics in play particularly because there is no privacy. In the original prisoner’s dilemma that players are part of a gang, here we make the audience into a gang; while instructing them not to act like one.

That framing is from an interesting synopsis of a set of some ideas that apparently were first formalized by George Ainslie, e.g. that we all prefer short term pleasures and we tend to severely discount long term benefits as we make our choices in life. Given the choice between a chocolate bar right now and a chocolate cake tomorrow we tend to take the chocolate bar. This behavioral default is apparently well documented in man and other animals.

Formally we ought to discount future rewards by some reasonably uniform rate. So if we are offered a $100 tomorrow and $10 in an hour we ought to just compute the option value of each discounting by some interest rate based on the risk we percieve the future payoff to have. This kind of discounting is expediential; and it isn’t biased about things that are closer vs. farther away. It will cough up the same answer for 5 today vs. 10 tomorrow no matter what units (days, weeks, years) you use when you ask.

We animals don’t do that. Another way of saying that we like short-term benefits is that we discount things in small time units very sharply. A cookie in 30 seconds vs. a nice lunch in an hour? The cookie wins. It’s not rational but it’s how we are wired.

This leads to all kinds of common but irrational behaviors. Breaking the diet, staying up to late, having a few too many beers, failing to hold our tongue, etc. etc.

But most interestingly it puts us into a game just like the one above with ourselves. We are the audience. At each step in the game we have a choice to defect and take the dollar; but if we can manage not to defect then we can capture the long-term gains. We are caught in a gang of one our loyalty to our future selves continually tested against a hardwired setting that tempts us into short term defections.