One of the latest projects from the MIT Media Lab is Personas. The concept is simple and the results are impressive. Just input your name and it searches the web for mentions of this name to put it in context. It then analyses each of these instances of your name to build a profile of how the web sees you. Are you more ‘sports” or more ‘books’, more ‘military’ or more ‘music’? Of course, if you happen to share your name with other people, your results will be subject to what is perhaps best thought of as ‘noise’. Take a look at my profile below to see what happens (it’s useful to know that I share my name with American Footballers, an artist and a singer in a band).
The main problem that the Personas project faces is the same problem that many of us face online: names are not unique identifiers. There are many many Matt Rhodes in the world, using the Internet and being written about for what they do. To me, the Matt Rhodes who is an American Footballer is ‘noise’. To him, the Matt Rhodes in London who write about social media and marketing is also ‘noise’. We need something cleverer than names to identify people and something cleverer than names to identify people and to enable them to bring together everything that they do and that is written about them online.
This is even more important with the growth of online communities and the use of social media. People have moved from being written about to being writers. And as everybody is now able to create, add to and organise content online, so the number of people being written about has increased.
This is where shared credentials like Facebook Connect or OpenID come in. Rather than relying on your name to connect your online presence, you can associate everything that you do online by using the same account details to log-in to different social media site, social networks or online communities. You can associate everything and be the curator of your own online brand. At FreshNetworks we use both of these credentials, if appropriate, to enable people to log into an online community with their Facebook details, for example. To pass activity between the two sites to start to bring together in one place your brand online, or at least some elements of it.
As the web grows, and the use of social media and social sites grows even more rapidly, the need to sort and search for information on individuals will become even more important. And, as MIT Media Lab’s Personas project shows, that cannot be left to something as un-unique as your name.