Many me

I first joined Twitter in 2007. In fact, if is correct, I joined on 20th February 2007.

My first account was @dmje. I tweeted in that way that everyone seems to first tweet – a sporadic few “just what the hell is this Twitter thing all about?” followed by a long gap, followed by a re-emergence as more people I knew found themselves on it. I also, of course, blogged (“All Noise, No Signal“) and have been slowly eating my words (some of them, not all) ever since.

For a long time, my @dmje account worked well. But after a while, I started to become very aware that the person that I am (opinionated, personal, direct, a little bit sweary..) was different from the person I either *should* be or was somehow expected to be (professional, supportive, focused).

At that point in time – in fact, prompted by a slightly sweaty moment in which I tweeted a few bits and bobs which I probably shouldn’t have from a professional perspective – I decided to make @dmje a private account and create a new public persona, @m1ke_ellis. Again, according to whendidyoujointwitter, this happened on 22nd May 2009.

I went through a fairly painful process of moving across *some* contacts to my m1ke_ellis account but leaving others at @dmje. My criteria? Very, very loose, but broadly based around: “If we’ve met and drunk a beer together then @dmje, otherwise @m1ke_ellis…”. There are exceptions to this rule, though. Obviously ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m now maybe 5 months down the line, and I’m still not entirely happy with the outcome; although each time I think about the possible alternatives I always come back to what I’ve done as being the best way, albeit far from perfect.

Here’s the thinking:

The good:

  • I can continue to rant, unabridged and privately (except, obviously, to a group of trusted and known personal friends) using my @dmje account. I use this account far more than my public one (sadly, nearly 10,000 tweets…)
  • I follow about 120 people, I have about 110 people who I’ve allowed to follow me.ย These people are real to me. In true Dunbar style, I see my Twitter stream for @dmje and feel a personal connection with each and every person on that list.
  • …I can therefore cope with the quantity and noise
  • Tweets to and from the @dmje account are much more conversational, much less “broadcast”
  • I can retain a “professional” persona at @m1ke_ellis, tweeting about work and technology related stuff. This is particularly useful at conferences and so on
  • Having a public account of some description is useful when it comes to feeding a stream to blogs, profile, and so on

The bad:

  • By far and away the single worst thing about this approach is this: I’m not two people, and although this can sometimes get ugly (yes, I ranted about Creative Spaces; no, I wasn’t particularly “professional”, but I feel passionate about some things..)
  • From a marketeers perspective (and I don’t subscribe to this viewpoint at all, btw), I’ve done A Bad Thing by splitting my Twitter accounts. While I’ve watched some people moving up to thousands of followers, I’ve split my juice (urg!) across 2 accounts. Actually, more – I also use @bathcamp and @eduserv for other specific purposes. If I was after followers (I’m not), I should probably have stuck with a single “me” account.
  • Maintaing two or more accounts is challenging, logistically. Although Tweetdeck (my preferred desktop client) and EchoFon (mobile) both support multiple accounts now, it is very easy to tweet the wrong thing to the wrong account. More to the point, it is hard to maintain momentum with an account if your attention isn’t on it all the time

There is a deeper point to all this: Embracing social media requires a fairly complex understanding of personality and tone of voice. I might be a more professional me over at @m1ke_ellis, but how is that me different to the me at @dmje? You’re not likely to hear about my kids, my wife, my life, my hangovers, the gig I just went to, the #bus14 journey I nearly got killed on.

But there again, if you’re listening to the professional me then you probably don’t want to hear that anyway, right? Or do you? How real is the me who just talks about work? Not very, in one sense, because my family and that other stuff is (obviously) waaaay more important than my working life. And it’s not like I can effectively split my interests in that way. I live and breathe web stuff – this is far from being a day job for me.

Actually, I think the most successful social media people and companies manage to balance this rather better than I have. Take @andypowe11 for example. He’s public and not only tweets about metadata and work stuff but also rants on occasion, too. He’s got better self control than me (he’s as rude, but swears less..), but still.

I don’t like Twitter as broadcast mechanism, and I think naturally once you pass a level of followers/followees that is what it becomes, unless you’re on top of it all of the time. Personally I dislike it when I “@” someone and they don’t reply; clearly someone with thousands of followers is unlikely to respond all of the time. Twitter then moves from being a conversation to being something different, a something which I feel doesn’t carry the personality which social media perhaps should.

OpenID: fail.

[ Do you know what – I’m a bit nervous about this blog post. The reason I’m nervous is that I’m writing about something I really don’t understand too well. I’ve tried – I really, really have – I’ve watched videos and slideshows, looked at diagrams, read explanations. But I still don’t really understand how OpenID works. And for a long while that put me off writing this. I know that OpenID has a lot of people gunning for it. And I know that support is gaining, at least in numbers of service providers. But in the end, it comes down – as always – to the user – and the experience I have had has been as that user. And I simply can’t, won’t – and don’t use OpenId. Because it’s rotten, and broken, and failing. So I went ahead and wrote this anyway..I’m sure you’ll let me know what you think ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

The geek world has been getting excited for a fair while about OpenID. You’re probably all familiar with it and I’ll leave it up to Wikipedia to describe the service in detail, but in short the notion is that managing multiple identities online is increasingly problematic, and that some kind of way of managing these identities in one trusted, decentralised place is what is needed to make life better.

OpenID is based around the use of a uri as the unique identifier for an individual, not an email address, as is so common today with most sites.

All well and good, you’d have thought. The only thing is there’s an enormous, hulking great elephant in the room: OpenID doesn’t work.

I should clarify. In a technical sense, OpenID works. But from a usability perspective, it’s absolutely horrible.

Let’s examine the user flow for someone signing up to a.n.other site using the “traditional” method: they arrive, they click “register”. They put in their details, including email address. They go to their email account and click on the “validate” link. Done. The purists all shift uncomfortably in their seats – the users’ identity has been propogated to yet another site (eek, duplication) and there is also a reliance on the email provider (eek, single point of failure / “evil” company fear, etc).

Now let’s have a look with OpenID. And let’s consider it in the best possible case scenario – user has not only already created an OpenID but knows the address AND is signed in (i.e has a currently active session/cookie) to that providers’ service.

So..user arrives at site and is asked for their OpenID. They put in the address and push go. The site then redirects them to their OpenID provider. User clicks to allow access to data, and selects a persona. Provider site then redirects back to the original site. Original site then (inevitably, in my experience) asks user to fill in additional “persona” data for their service as well as what they already entered. User enters site.

That’s at least a couple more steps, and remember that’s if they’re signed in or even have an OpenID account. If they’re not signed in (but have an account) then they still have to sign in on the OpenID providers’ site. Using a username and password…If they don’t have an OpenID, just add at least 3 more steps. If they forget their OpenID then the process to get it back has to be done on the provider site and not on the site they’re wanting to access.

There are several thing that are really badly wrong with the OpenID / user landscape. Here’s how I see them:

1. Users don’t understand the use of a URI as identifier
This is about education, but it’s an important point. People see URI’s as “web addresses”, not as personal identifiers. They don’t get it, and aren’t being encouraged to get it, either.

2. Users don’t like redirects
Actually, users don’t care about redirects – what they do care about is maintenance of trust and brand. A user mid-basket on Amazon is not going to be happy about a jump away to another site unless they’re very clear that there is brand association between the sites.

3. Users won’t remember OpenID’s
Not only are OpenID’s longer and more complex, they’re also a dog to get back once forgotten. With email/pwd, you just click the “forgotten pwd” link. Email, click, done. With OpenID you have to go back to your provider site and do it from there, not on the site you’re trying to access.

4. There is no paradigm
Apart from password remembering within the browser, there isn’t a “central persona management” paradigm. This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be one, but it makes the job of invisibile tech that much harder.

I’ve left what I see as the single biggest issue until last:

5. There isn’t a problem that needs solving
As I’ve indicated before, we (tech savvy geek types) are not the normality. I may have a sign-up obsession and belong to hundreds of sites, but normal people just don’t. By some gentle “finger in the air” reckoning, I’d suggest that most people have – what – ten sites they sign in to? That’s hardly shouting out for a distributed, decentralised, persona-based solution, is it? What’s actually wrong with a “remind me of my password” link, anyway? And using email as identity is secure enough for pretty much any application. We geeks are making assumptions based on our experiences of the web. It’s us, not Joe Normal who has 400 passwords in our heads, surely?

So on the one hand we’ve got an elegant, beautiful, technically “good” solution that is almost completely unusable. On the other is something ugly and flawed – but something that works well for most people: something that isn’t actually broken, and – frankly – doesn’t need fixing.

OpenID feels like it could and should be better, but the current scenario whereby hundreds and thousands of sites are becoming providers (AOL, Orange, Yahoo!, etc) and very little effort is being put into fixing the flawed user flow – or user education for that matter – is just a road to nowhere. Some sites (LiquidID, ClickPass, Vidoop as examples) are just starting in the usability direction, but it’s nowhere near enough. And right now, I – like most people I know – are just fine sticking with the original email/pwd alternative.

Social graph, attention data, openid and stuff like that

OpenID talkI’m at a one-day conference on OpenID and education, organised by Eduserv. I’m live blogging over on our new Eduserv PSG blog, and that’s hard enough to do in one place, let alone two so I have no intention of doing the same here ๐Ÿ™‚

Just a quickie: during coffee break I had an interesting chat with Paul Walk who is a big advocate of OpenID – and has been using it for some time. We started a conversation about the notions of identity, attention data, the social graph, single sign-on, etc. It strikes me that the community is fairly bad at defining how these differ and where they cross-over.

I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to OpenID, but in some ways (he blags) that puts me in a good position: I’m a naive consumer of the service rather than a geeked out pro.

As I had understood it, OpenID seemed to be to be always sold as a single sign-on technology, much like Microsoft Passport (sorry, Microsoft “Live ID”..). The question I have is how far it goes beyond “just a sign-in” technology and moves into being an identity holder. Paul tells me that is exactly what it is, and that’s a relief – not least of all because identity is much more interesting than sign-on.

The second question I have is about where the line is drawn around identity. Is the fact that I’m married, for instance (a relationship on my “Social Graph”) a question of identity? Would this information be stored in my Identity profile? Would the name (or name of “node”) of my wife? Looking at it from one angle, I could argue that yes – this is very obviously identity information. From another, it isn’t..

Thirdly, where does attention data sit in this scenario? Over on AttentionTrust, they have a diagram which says “how we browse, what we say, what we read = me” which very much implies that Attention Data = identity. Paul (and others I got talking to) seemed to think otherwise. I’m not entirely sure why, but hopefully we can get some more talking in later on.

I’ve always had a soft spot for approaches such as FOAF, and that’s the final question: how do you map these relationships, and where do they “live” in the OpenID world? Where does OpenSocial sit?