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Consolidation of self in an interconnected world

The classic New Yorker cartoon had a good run. Peter Steiner hit it on the head on July 5, 1993, but I think those days are ending, in a very real way. And this has been discussed before – but I want to add something to this conversation (even though this is a great logo from IIW).

Only a dog will be a dog on the internet.

The network effects of distributing and verifying our identity will have dramatic implications on how we interact in our world (both online and offline). I think we’re headed to a time when “online” and “offline” will no longer be different, separable “places”. They’ll come together and just “be” your identity – they’ll be who you are.

Companies went through this roughly ten years ago. We started seeing URLs on television commercials and glossy brochures. They were at the bottom of the Nike commercials and the car commercials. IBM had one. Apple. Smith Barney. We stopped hearing phone numbers on radio spots – they started saying things like dot-com and dot-o-r-g at the end of their 30 seconds. The companies figured out that their public face was moving from their broadcast advertising campaigns and marketing documents to their website.

Consumers began talking about companies in a way that was recordable, searchable, findable, and devastating to those companies who had always existed at or near the edge of consumer ire. These companies lost when there was more feedback introduced into the system. A good thing, nearly everyone agrees in today’s “enlightened” internet world.

Likewise, those companies who played this new game well, had a website, fostered community, encouraged feedback and embraced the technology – many of them flourished. There was global reach available to so many more than before, both big and small. There were conversations that began to happen (cluetrain) and the concept of a difference between “online companies” and “offline companies” began to disappear about five years later. Nearly all companies larger than one or two person operations now have a web presence here in the US. People “get” how this works – they understand that they can research a company/product before purchase – they can shop around and read the reviews. This is empowering to the consumer and cheaper for the companies. The market spoke and ten years have passed. It’s just part of today’s reality. No big deal. It’s hard to imagine shopping without it.

Now, on to individuals.

We will begin to make the same realizations, personally, that the companies made about their own visibility and place in the world. We’ll be realizing our own face to the world, our own identities, are now a conversation, searchable, findable (you are what you post) – and that there are most definitely reviews out there that can be read and analyzed. It is a very flat place. It’s accessible and negligibly free, a powerful combination.

Now, there are great differences between companies and individuals, sure – culturally, financially, legally. The mechanics of how this will all go down will not be the same, but the end result – a consolidation and awareness of the “self” we project – will be identical to what business went through ten years ago. Your social networks will make sure that it’s really hard for you to have a persona online that’s any different from who you are in “real life”. In fact, what I’m saying is that “in real life (IRL)” will be a quaint colloquialism in just a few short years. We’ll look back and laugh at our simplicity of understanding and comprehension for where we were headed. In an always-on, well-connected world, our social dynamics will change a little bit – but not much. We’ve had too many years (all of them) of being social creatures to change much now. Our friends will be our friends and our enemies will be our enemies. No online or offline about it.

Think I’m wrong? Think we’ll be able to keep our groups of friends and affiliations separated from one another? Don’t think you’ll have reviews?

Tell me about it.

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  1. […] We talked about eBay and Amazon, claimID and my theory on consolidation of self. I was surprised by the lack of squirming that usually appears when I begin talking about how I think there will be very little public anonymity in the future. Private transactions, we’ll have covered – you’ll be able to purchase something from those you already trust with a minimum of credential passing, as your physical-world credentials and prior history will do just fine. Publicly purchasing something from a stranger, however, will require a trust and reputation that will be provided by third parties and confirmation services. […]

  2. […] And this is a good thing – as it mirrors the real world. You shouldn’t lie to your friends. As I’ve said before, the real world is a quaint place where actions matter and people remember. It’s also a place where this virtual overlay we’re playing in today will be taken for granted in only a few very short years. The decisions you make online today will, and should, matter tomorrow. […]

  3. […] Our identities will collapse on themselves, digital and physical, and plasticity as strategy, while available, will be rarely used by the majority of people who conduct any online activity (read: everyone). […]

  4. […] we’ll be merging and projecting. And there will be lots of consternation about how to deal with all of it. Good thing we’ve […]

  5. […] keep meaning to write down when these things happen… The march towards consolidation seems so obvious to me, and yet people are still confused when I suggest they can keep things […]