Pownce: Social Networks aren't Identity Networks

Interesting. Someone just told me that I was on Pownce – which is odd, because I never signed up for an account. Lo and behold, here “I” am. I’m not terribly upset about it at this point, but that’s pretty much my identity – and the people following “me” may not know that that’s “me” or have no idea who I really am. This is indicative of the problems all these stupid-ass social network sites face:

  • There was no verification that this person, using my name and photo, obviously intending to make people believe that the profile was my own (despite having jumped up and down about how I wasn’t really ready to try Pownce yet), is really me – who he or she claims to be. Why? No, seriously – why? This isn’t *MY* fault – it’s Pownce’s, and they’re not the only social network with this severe identity shortcoming. If this is an identity-oriented service, where the hell is the identity check!?
  • Some of these people may think this is really me. It’s not, and if it was – I certainly wouldn’t use that profile picture (taken at the first Desktop Linux Summit a few years back).
  • Some of these “friends” may have no idea who the hell I am, yet have added me as a friend – which makes little to no sense if this person really isn’t me, or I (not “I”) didn’t initiate the relationship. Sorry, man – that’s not me. You already know where to find me, and it’s not on Pownce at the moment.
  • If someone claimed this profile in my name to reserve it for me, I appreciate the gesture – but please, I really don’t feel comfortable with putting my identity here when it’s already BLATANTLY obvious that the system is just as lousy as every other social network on the planet (in terms of identity and ABSOLUTE BENEFIT to the account holder).
  • One reason I stuck with Twitter is because it’s simple, it lets the world know what I’m up to, and I don’t feel like my identity is getting monetized out the wazoo without proportional benefit.

Sadly, this is an industry-wide problem – not a Pownce-specific one (although they’re making it all too easy to point out the flaws inherent in the entire ecosystem of social networks). Why do I pick to join one network over another? I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I can tell you one thing for sure: I don’t like it when people pretend to be me. Why the hell you’d ever want to pretend to be me is beyond me, but I guess that’s the point?

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  14. This is one reason I sign up for just about everything mentioned even though I may never use the service. I really wished I didn’t think I had to sign up for some things with that mentality. The same mode of thinking also continues in the practice of buying multiple domains to protect their brand. You hear about all kinds of Identity theft involving credit cards, medical records, driver’s lisc. etc. Those things are still easy for criminals to steal you name and do all kinds of things under your name but they do a a “few” and I stress few more modes of protection built in. the sign up procedure these things is way to easy.

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  17. This is an even bigger problem than people signing up as you on purpose. I am not as well known as you, but there are others(at least two) out there with my same exact name. One took the gmail address of the form [email protected] (I have [email protected]), then he wrote a very nasty letter to an American politician to whose campaign I have contributed some amount of money. They matched his name up to their campaign contributions, and thought it was me. (At least they realized to call me and verify if it was or not, given that this other person with the same name is in Holland).
    So there is another problem with these networks — legitimate “namespace collisions”. And, what do you do about it? They have every right to that name — it is their name too — and may not be representing it well online.

    – John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

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  20. Hi Chris,

    I think it’s flattering that someone is masquerading as you. You have I think it’s flattering that someone is masquerading as you. You have now joined the growing pantheon of web-pseudo celebrities. For example; William Shatner, Steve Jobs, and Borat.

    If anything, you should have felt hurt that no one had impersonated you online yet. Really, this is a sign that you have arrived. You have been inducted into the hall of fame.

    My feeling on Twitter is that in time, it will be on par with other technologies such as the telephone, IM, and email. It took me a while to understand that the site is more than overly self-important people deluding themselves into thinking the world is interested in knowing that they are currently eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

    The very first time I was invited to Twitter, all I saw on the Public timeline were 20 people talking about eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I thought, “Who cares. Why is that important? Why does the person writing this think I care about what flavor gum they are chewing?”

    Well, I care when those people, are people who I know. Those are my friends and acquaintances and I’m genuinely interested to know what they are up to and how their day is going.

    After having actually used Twitter for a few weeks, I realize the genius of it. Even if all your friends work in their own individual home offices, you can still maintain a sense of connection. We are all busy, have short attention spans, and are lacking time… and yet everyone has time to write or read 140 characters. Twitter makes it easy to stay in touch and to stay connected.

    Twitter’s got more pounce to the ounce (Much more).

  21. FYI, there is a start-up who is trying to tackle this problem : The Todeka Project http://www.todekaproject.com/

    This is their pitch :
    “The Todeka Project is a secure place where you can certify your real life identity, manage all your Digital Identity services without the need to remember all your personal information and from any device, and you’ll be able to decide which kind of information and to whom you want to provide it.”

    I think they will have great uplift if they manage to do it right.

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  23. Yeah, I’m really not a big fan of this whole “username as identity” thing. I wish more places would pick up OpenID. I’m planning on releasing a web games service soon that will most likely eschew usernames entirely in favor of OpenID.

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  25. I’d have to agree with Steven on this one. This is where OpenID becomes increasingly useful… and, if there is some way to indicate “authenticated” user accounts on these services, and [possibly] showing which URL was used to claim the account, people would have some sense as to the validity and source from which someone came.

    Of course, supporting OpenID in your blog comments would also be a good step forward — you can even do so silently (that is, if someone uses an OpenID URL, you authenticate them; if not, the experience doesn’t change — that way, you’d know for sure that Chris Messina is leaving this comment — or at least the person who controls factoryjoe.com… and not some masquerading as him. 😉

  26. Well, I’ve gotten some “interesting” friend requests, on a few of thes networks. SAME PIC, a LOT of differing names. A chance to INVENT an identity, more than expose 1, I Think.

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