Wanna Be My Friendster?

Wanna Be My Friendster?
Anonymity is Not Enough

Mark Wallace | 28 Feb 2006 11:01
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Papillon will allow users to make connections between their online identities that can verify both those claims. Rather than storing passwords or real-world identity information, Papillon will only store associations between identities in different contexts, encoded in such a way that the information is secure, even if it falls into the wrong hands. It seems a trivial thing on the surface, but the tools it makes possible could change how we think of our identities in online worlds. With Papillon, knowing eBay's WoWSalez0r is really the World of Warcraft toon he says he is becomes a trivial matter of simply asking at a Papillon-enabled Web site. If WoWSalez0r has registered there, you have your answer. And if he hasn't, you can make your own decision as to whether or not to do business with him, just as we do today.

And if connecting your online identity to your "real" self is important, you can do that, too. For many people, such connections already carry much weight. Just look at the number of people who reveal their identity in The Sims Online through the realsimsonline.com site. Even there, though, a screenshot and a claim that Toon X is Person Y is pretty slim evidence to go on. For many inhabitants of the virtual world, total anonymity is not enough. When tools like Papillon and the Identity Metasystem arrive later this year, we won't have to settle for total anonymity anymore.

As the things we think of as "real" move further into the place we think of as "virtual," it's a good bet that more and more people will demand the kind of strong connections such systems will make possible. These kinds of things allow us to build stronger communities than are presently possible in cyberspace. The metaverse of virtual worlds is held back by a lack of trust, at the moment. But imagine a version of cyberspace in which all your online identities could be connected to each other in a secure, verifiable fashion, in whatever combination you choose. The kind of community found in a World of Warcraft guild is only the beginning. When you can travel from World of Warcraft to Second Life to EVE Online to ActiveWorlds to eBay and have your avatar in each of those contexts be you (if you so choose), that's when the metaverse will really start cooking. I, for one, look forward to it. But then, who am I?

Mark Wallace can be found on the web at Walkering.com. His book with Peter Ludlow, Only A Game: Online Worlds and the Virtual Journalist Who Knew Too Much, will be published by O'Reilly in 2006.

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