Why self-sovereign identity will get adopted (and it’s not the reason you probably want)

(Thanks to Kim Cameron for prompting me to write this down. Special thanks to Chuck Mortimore for his insight and probing questions and who helped me improve this.)

In the identity industry, there’s been a lot hype these days around self-sovereign identity. The latest permutation in the quest for user-centric identity, self-sovereign revisits the laudable goal of enabling people to be in better control of how information about them passes to enterprises and organizations (but now with added blockchain.) To be clear, increased individual control is an important goal and one that incredibly sharp people have been working on for 15+ years, going back to InfoCard and Higgins.

Before I discuss why self-sovereign has a real chance at widespread adoption, it’s important to understand why identity technologies and approaches get adopted in the first place. At least, three things are required:

  1. People who will use the identity system
  2. Organizations willing to consume identities from the system
  3. Significant and relatively equivalent value for both groups

You need a lot of people to use an identity system for mainstream adoption. You get those people by providing enough value to them either in hard currency (e.g. you give them a cut of what their personal data is worth, extend discounts in lieu of currency, or free services) or in efficiencies (e.g. never fill out an account registration form ever again) or in security (e.g. your account will be harder to hack) or in privacy (e.g. your data will never be resold or your data is anonymized.)

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