Last week I wrote about managing your identity, with a focus on reputation:
The question of a global, persistent online identity (and corresponding reputation) is a challenging one. One of the big issues is how to measure reputation (not easy). If you are anything like me, your online reputation is fragmented or multiple. I blog in a variety of different places, on a number of different subjects. In each, I have some roughly visible level of reputation. But I don't think I have any global/aggregate reputation. And I can't carry any of those reputations with me easily if I move into a new topic area, for example.
Or to put it another way, say you are the expert blogger at a company. Maybe you are the CEO. And you leave. This throws a wrench in your former place of work's online reputation, and leaves you fragmented. And what about history? Is your past reputation-generating device archived? Does it disappear? Is our reputation so ephemeral?
I'd like to revisit this idea of multiple identities, as I have been thinking a bit more on it. This past week, I wrote an article on social bookmarking, tagging and folksonomy for the January issue of PRSA's Tactics magazine. In my research on tagging, I came across a variety of very interesting articles that looked at tagging from human psychology and behaviorism. (You can see the list of articles I consulted here.) Thinking about tagging gave me some insights into thinking about identity.
When we tag we are assigning semantic associations to an online object. Or to put it another way, we are associating a bunch of key words to a post, a photo, a podcast, etc. to help us find it later and to enable other people to find it. In essence, we are providing many routes to an object.
I visualize this as an object sitting in the middle of a three-dimensional space. Surrounding the object is a faceted shape. If there is only one route to the object, the shape is a sphere. If two, a cone. If four, a triangle, if six a cube. You get the picture. Each facet represents a route to the information.
A few things come to mind.
First, that you want to have as many routes as possible in order to maximize having that object found.
But I stop and question this assumption. Is maximization the best strategy? Can a point be reached where there are so many facets that they could deter discovery? In diamonds, more facets means more reflected light. Could too many routes deflect someone from finding the information? I don't know, but it is worth thinking about.
Do the facets themselves change the object inside? Or rather, do they change the perception of the object? A post with many inbound links for example, is rated more important than a post with few inbound links. It is assumed "better" because more people link to it. But this assumption can easily be called into question as, for example, inbound links can be manipulated. So while there is an association between inbound links and perceived quality, it isn't sufficient to state with certainty that the post is indeed a good one.
What happens when a facet interacts with the facet of another object? Does a material change occur?
Again, lots to think about here, not the least of which is if "facets" make any sense as a tool for thinking. But let's move back to the original topic: identity.
What if it is me sitting in the middle of this 3D object? The facets represent all the routes to finding me. But what me are they pointing to?
First, and perhaps most obviously, if we keep this discussion related to the online world, they are pointing to (at least one) simulacra of me - a virtual me. Not the physical, real-world me. That matters, I think, and is worthy of more philosophical inquiry later.
So, let's take the virtual me (vElizabeth). One virtual me could be this blog. CorporatePR=vElizabeth in many ways. But is equals only a fragment of vMe. It is where I write about PR, communications, philosophy and other items that interest the professional/(and now) academic me. But I have another virtual me: v1Elizabeth. That v1E is located over at Corante's FutureTense where I write on a different (but related) subject. Is v1E really different than vMe? Sometimes they overlap. And now, I am part of Corante's Marketing Hub. Is that v2E? Maybe vMe - vE+v1E+v2E etc. Also, vE, v1E and v2E aren't equivalent. I put more effort into vE than v1E, and v2E is fully automated, and pulls from vE. Does that matter when constructing online identity (which is what I am doing, of course)? (And when other people comment about one of the vEs, they are also constructing my identity...and I don't have any control over that!)
Now my head is spinning. There are vEs all over the place (some of which don't even "belong" to me in that I haven't actually created them!) and the vMe is truly fragmented. The vMe is multiple identities. When you try to connect this to realElizabeth it starts to feel really weird! (Can you say cyborg identity?)
Of course, realElizabeth has multiple real-world identities as well. Some interact with virtualElizabeths, others don't. Is there one, true, center Elizabeth? I am honestly not sure. That starts to get into multiple mind theory and I don't know enough about that yet.
So the idea of identity itself is very, very complicated. Which makes calculating reputation a difficult proposition. And let's remember too that there is no final answer here. It is a continuous process of construction, sometimes done in a fully aware, deliberate way, sometimes done in an autonomic way, and sometimes done by others.
I suspect that it is more fruitful to look at the process of constructing identities than trying to find a final object sitting in the middle of a 3D shape. And that process is going to be really important to understand when one starts investigating online collaboration schemas. But those subjects are for another day. I am merging my vE with my rwE and sitting down to eat lunch!