I’ve gone on and on about identity on the web and the battle over owning your namespace online. As far as I’m concerned there are clear and present dangers in making an ill- or uninformed decision about who you host your identity with. If you use whatever is simply the easiest or most convenient, you’re essentially handing over the reigns to how you’re presented on the web. I call this “brand-mediated identity” — where your identity is essentially subjugated to a company or organization.
“Brand-mediated identity” in and of itself isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a choice — one that I argue shouldn’t be made unconsciously or involuntarily (but all too often is because obvious or viable alternatives aren’t available).
Indeed, people mediate their online identities through brands all the time — the latest example being the “Madmenize” app that replaces your Twitter avatar with a cartoon head from the acclaimed Mad Men series. This kind of mediation happens with increasing frequency on Twitter, where identity is fluid and often the sum of a tweet, an avatar and a username. Renny Gleeson has even started cataloguing these “icon memes” — they’re that frequent.
But today I came across a truly inspirational approach to brand-mediated identity that portends great potential for OpenID and for brands generally — especially those with eager and adoring fans:
What better way to both support Creative Commons and show off your patronage than by identifying yourself across the web with your very own unique, secure, privacy-protecting creativecommons.net OpenID (just like Zach Beauvais)?
For a mere $50 minimum donation ($25 for students), you can own a limited edition URL and profile from Creative Commons that identifies you to the world and provides a compelling revenue opportunity for the non-profit foundation.
While companies like SAP become OpenID providers for pedestrian reasons like simplifying authentication across their many different distributed web properties, Creative Commons is redistributing the brand equity and social capital their members have accrued over the last several years by letting people show and verify their affiliation to the organization.
With this simple example, we can start to see the symbiosis of making an intentional choice about identity: Creative Commons finds a new revenue opportunity and members of the community have a way to express their affiliation and promote the brand. This is exactly the kind of thing that I could see the NYTimes doing for its writers (as an extension to its Times People platform) — providing them both a home on the web and a way to validate their association with a more well-known entity. This of course is just a small experiment for Creative Commons — but a very exciting one in terms of what it means for identity on the web.