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October 22, 2009

This is me – now what was the question?

I note that the call for papers for the TERENA Networking Conference (TNC) 2010 is now out. Given that the themes focus (in part) on network lifestyle and identity issues I wondered about putting in something based on Dave White's vistors vs residents work (yeah, that again!). Something like the following:

The Web used to be seen as a tool to get various jobs done – booking a holiday, finding a train time, reading email, catching up on lecture notes, checking a bank account, and so on. The people using such tools adopted a largely visitor mentality, - they fired up their Web browser, undertook a task of some kind, and left. Little or no trace was left.

Over the past few years the Web has changed significantly. It is now a social space, as much a part of people's lives as going down the pub, going to work, or turning up for lectures. As a result, many people are now increasingly adopting a resident mentality – cohabiting a social networked environment with others and intentionally leaving a permanent record of their activities in that space.

In a world of visitors, the principle reason for asserting identity (“this is me”) is so that the particular tool being used can determine what an individual's access rights are. But in a world of residents, that is only part of the story. They are more likely to assert their identity as part of a “this is who I am”, this is what I’ve done”, this is who I know” transaction with other people in their social space.

The functional requirements of the identity infrastructure are therefore very different for residents than they used to be for visitors. SAML is geared to meeting the needs of visitors and the tools they wish to access. OpenID caters much more to a ‘resident’ way of thinking.

If we believe that the Web is changing us (as it certainly is), and particularly if we believe that the Web is changing learning and research, then we have to be prepared to change with it and adopt technologies that assist in that change.

Does that resonate with people?  I'd be interested in your thoughts.


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It resonates, although I have to admit that I'm always a little leery of visitor vs. resident language (don't even get me started on "digital natives"). But I definitely see your point, and it raises some very interesting issues for authentication mechanisms. If you're of a social constructionist bent (and I am), you believe that there isn't really a core self; there's a multiplicity of selves manifested by any individual through a process of interactions with others, and we stage manage these different selves to a significant degree. Almost all authentication mechanisms want to tie you down to one identity, which in fact is probably not what people want in 'resident mode.' There are ways around that (multiple account logins, etc.), but if we're going to be serious about designing identity systems for online use, we need to be very clear on what users actually want in terms of identity management online.

Hi Andy

I think it is a good idea, and I like the visitor / resident stance but I'm not sure I agree with you that SAML is visitor / OpenID is resident. It depends on where you see yourself as resident - within the application (i.e. I am my twitter ID) or within your organisation (i.e. I am my JISC ID). The behavioural approach of users and the protocols are not perhaps so easily matched. SAML as used in internal applications by institutions is very much all about the resident.

I’d say it would be better looked at as what is my dominant identity behaviour in relation to services x, y and z, and then what is my preferred domain for expressing my identity within that service (if I have a choice, that is!). The protocol will then simply follow as the most appropriate one for the domain preference.

To give some examples:

SAML=VISITOR: I want to read an article on ScienceDirect. My institution pays for the subscription so naturally my preferred domain is my institutional ID as I don’t want to pay again. I just want to snatch and grab the article, so

SAML=RESIDENT: I log-in to a local version of Google Apps for education and work collaboratively on a project proposal with colleagues. I use my institutional ID as a) the institution can get Google Apps for education and b) the people I want to collaborate with are my colleagues who share residency with me in that domain.

OpenID=VISITOR: I read an interesting blog piece and feel the need to add a comment – the blog software requires me to log-in by either creating a WordPress Account or by using my OpenID. I chose to use my OpenID as a) I don’t use WordPress at all and b) I actually want people to know about my user-domain where I am actually resident (rather than your platform where I am a visitor).

OpenID=RESIDENT: I log in to Facebook using my OpenID and engage with other users doing exactly the same thing.

I guess it depends on whether you view the visitor / resident analogy as the difference between using the web and really having a presence on the web, or whether you see it as a range of behavioural choices depending on the service in question.

Interesting stuff. I've been working on some ideas that revolve aorund this, but for me the absolute core is the changing nature of the web in terms of the ability to write to it rather than just read it, so what is really meant by Web 2.0 as opposed to what it has come to mean. Poeple were always visitors in the old web, as it was very hard to be anything else but a visitor, whereas new webspaces that allow us to create within them grant this ability to be resident.

Personally I have four 'identities' online, and choose to participate in different things based on those identifies. It's tricky to manage, and often a mess (!) but it the best way of keeping sane and focused in the different spheres of life (real or virtual) that I choose to engage in. The very fact that we can have multiple identities online is I think something that needs to be taught and managed, as often people will become engaged in communities as the 'wrong' person.

Andy - I think that it is the other way around in that 'visitor' and 'resident' are merely descriptors or categorisations of activity rather than a behaviour or mentality that one adopts. So it is the affordances of social media platforms and services that underly the change in behaviour, not the agency of individuals. By saying that earlier Internet users adopted a visitor mentality implies some kind of choice i.e. they could have chosen to be residents as well - rather than seeing the technologies of the time as being top-down, read-only and only supporting limited engagement and persistence.

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