Why seeing your social activities again seems so uncomfortable?

Continuing Burton Group’s work of social networking and social media, I’ve been having various forms of this conversation over the last few weeks. First, I was at TechAmerica talking about social networks, privacy, and data breaches. Although the audio isn’t great, you can get the gist from this video. Then I was talking to the guys from InfoChimps ahead of their debut of some huge Twitter datasets. (The potential for data they have is pretty breath-taking.)  Meanwhile, I am prep’ing a more formalized version of this talk for an upcoming OWASP event. With all this activity I thought I’d share a part of it.

On the whole, people have no problem using social networking tools. Whether for personal or for work reasons more and more people are using a variety of tools to share and connect. And in this regard, we can think of social tools as engines for disclosure. Although people are relatively comfortable making disclosures such as “had a great meal in Ottawa” or “have to burn the midnight oil to get this blog post done,” people feel uncomfortable when these disclosures appear in other places. This feeling is akin to reaching into your computer bag and finding a long lost banana: a little foreign, a little gross, and a little strange. People often want to keep their social structures separates and, using a highly technical word, people feel oogy when they discover that something they have disclosed (an activity, a group they may have joined, a relationship they formed, a trip they have taken, etc) is known by other people in other networks.

There are three axes to this problem:
* Audience
* Content
* Time

Oogy factor #1 – Audience – People often underestimate the size of the audience to whom their are disclosing information. What they think they are sharing with their team at work, is in fact shared with the enterprise. Furthermore, there are cases where the true size of the audience is not known because linkages between different social networking sites and the social graphs defined therein.

Oogy factor #2 -Content – Some disclosures are not obviously under people’s control. It’s obvious when I update my status in Yammer. It isn’t so obvious when I join a group and that fact appears in my work activity stream.  This is unsettling as information is being disclosed about me and yet I didn’t actively disclose that information. (I fell prey to this one… ask me sometime – funny story.)

Oogy factor #3 – Time – Closely tied to Content, people don’t necessarily have control of when things are disclosed about them. Where social tools are reporting on activity, it isn’t entirely obvious how a person controls such disclosures and when they happen.

People build mental models for their believed behavior of social tools along these three axis. If any one axis is shifted and the tool behave in a manner contrary to those mental models people feel uncomfortable. Although people are just establishing a comfort level with social tools from a consumer perspective, the enterprise is just taking its first teetering steps with social tools. There is definitely enterprise-grade ooginess ahead as enterprise grapples with the data breach and privacy implications of these tools. To that end, social tools have to provide meaningful ways for people, in the consumer setting, to adjust tool-behavior to meet their own mental models, and enterprises to accommodate wider regulatory and data protection concerns.

I’m going to be giving a longer version of this as a presentation to an OWASP and Tivoli users group meeting in December. If you are in the Hartford area, join us. You can register here.

(Cross-posted from Burton Group’s Identity Blog.)

Hopes and concerns for identity

A friend in the industry recently asked me for my thoughts on OpenID, InfoCards, and the US federal government’s work to consume non-government issued credentials. Letting the question rattle around in my head for a while, here’s what I’ve got so far.

My hope is that the overall ICAM initiative is successful—not because I have been eagerly waiting to interact with the federal government using some form of authenticated credential—but because we (citizens, enterprises and government) are at a pivotal moment in the history of the web. With the US government working with both the OpenID and InfoCard Foundations, there exists an opportunity to change how individuals interact with large organizations, both public and private. For the first time, individuals would be able to (even encouraged to) interact with a large organization (such as the US federal government) using an identity asserted, not by the large organization, but by the individual. In this case, the State is no longer the sole provider of identity. This breaks the monopoly that the State has had on credentials and is indicative of the future to come.

But there is a long road to walk before getting there. There are numerous concerns with these plans. Among these are notable security concerns, especially with OpenID, that the identity community is not blind to. These are not my primary concerns.

My primary concern is with the establishment of standard user behavior that could prolong existing problems. Today, after decades of enterprise training and a decade of consumer training, people naturally expect to see two text boxes on web sites. One is for their username and the one with the little stars is for their password. This behavior is ingrained. Changing this behavior is no small feat – just ask the OpenID and InfoCard groups. But it is a change that must occur to normalize people using something stronger than username and passwords to authenticate themselves.

My concern is that the behavior that is being established as a norm – the use of either an identity selector or some other user interface means – will become the username/password for the next generation. This isn’t a hypothetical problem; the writing is already on the wall. Currently, OpenID will only be accepted for low-value transactions with the government known as Level of Assurance 1 (LOA1). Activities like filing tax returns requires a far greater assurance that the person is who they claim to be and thus require a Level of Assurance 3 identifier. And there is problem. The way people use an LOA3 credential may be very different than how they do so with an LOA1 credential.

If we, as an industry, normalize user behavior that meets LOA1 needs but not LOA3, we are training in behavior that has to get untrained in a near future. What the government and its partners are on the path to doing is effecting real cultural change. This kind of change doesn’t happen often and is hard to do, and especially hard to undo.

I definitely want a future in which I can assert my own identity without validation from the State, but I am very willing to wait for that future to assure that the behavior the industry normalizes is one that will work for generations to come.

(Cross-posted from Burton Group’s Identity blog.)

2 blogs with promise

Two friends of mine have finally decided to get blogging. Yes, I know that blogging seems passé to some of you out there, but it still has it purpose.

First up – Tuesdaynight’s very own Josh Nanberg has launched his eponymous blog. Josh is one of the few people I know who can

  • breakdown political messaging techniques in to something I can understand
  • cook a four course meal in a 1 course kitchen
  • reference deeply obscure music lyrics

all at the same time.

Next up – my friend and mentor, Rob Ciampa has decided to divert his seemingly boundless energies into a bit of blogging. Besides having an encyclopedic knowledge French wine, a photographic memory for menus, and a typical Boston potty-mouth, Rob is one of the best corporate marketers and channel managers I have ever met.

Admittedly neither blog has much content but I know these guys, and I know what’s to come. You’ll want to know it to.