How to Manage Multiple Personalities & Relationships Online

Last Friday night, we nerds stayed home to claim our Facebook vanity URLs. Whatever that stunt was about, enough people responded to get me reflecting on a session from last week's Online Communities Unconference that discussed How to Manage Multiple Personalities & Relationships Online.

Gammydodger my online public persona that I use for Twitter,Digg, Delicious, TripAdvisor, Dopplr and a number of other Social Networking sites. I am now consolidating my online indentiy under this personal brand. I also maintain a professional identity under my name 'Gam Dias' and a private identity offline that is attached to my Social Security Number.

Until yesterday, I seemed quite happy with this 3 tier hierarchy until I was faced with the prospect of giving my Facebook account registered to Gam Dias a vanity URL. The only option was http://www.facebook.com/gammydodger. Instantly, I had just resolved two of my identities. Ooops.

Identity Management Case Study

This seemingly insigificant act has big implications in GamsWorld. Gammydodger posts his future trips and maintains an accurate log of his trips in Dopplr and he writes reviews of hotels, restaurants and airlines on TripAdvisor. He also maintains his travel profiles with a number of airlines where he has frequent flyer status and hotel chains where he has loyalty cards - this is done using his real name. And finally he books tickets at online aggregators such as Expedia or Travelocity.

When Gam books a ticket, the site booking his ticket will be able to access his preferences from the Airline's databases. They will also be able to see recent stays at various hotels to see which hotels he prefers to stay at. Once he books the ticket, the hotel chains will also be able to see that he has made a booking and because his hotel reviews are widely ready, they go out of their way to make his stay more pleasant.

All of this requires a melding of online identities where Gammydodger and Gam Dias are seen to be a single person. But Gam Dias also exists in Facebook to his friends and Overtone to his colleagues and customers.

Perhaps Gam is having a bad day at work and Tweets about it. Should Gam's customers be able to see that? Gam may have presented a very bad review of a hotel, where the chain is a customer. Should the hotel see that? Where should the two identities be separated and where should they be joined?

My Identity Resolution Dilemma

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...

Image by luc legay via Flickr

On the one hand, I am a huge supporter of Online Privacy, mainly from a marketing perspective that I don't want to be profiled as a marketing target. Additionally I want to ensure that things said as one persona don't neccessarily bleed over into the other. Both of these desires mplies not resolving my online personas.

On the other hand at Overtone we are trying to understand who is influential in Social Media and what they are saying about subjects. If an individual has two online personas, the sum of influence of those personas will be very significant in our calculations, so we should be making every effort to resolve disparate online personas where appropriate.

Proposed Rule Set of Resolving Online Identities

Let's say I am looking at what I think is the same user who is interacting on three separate sites. In each case, I have access to a username or handle and some kind of authenticating information, such as an email address (this scenario is quite common when reading posts on online communities, discussion boards and forums).

Case 1

Site UserID Email
TravelTalk.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com
Bookflights.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com
Arline.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com

In this case we can safely assume that the Alice Smith that we see on each of the three sites is the same Alice Smith. We can also assume that this is a single online persona - that is that Alice Smith has implicitly given permission, through using a single common username, to for those three users to be treated as a single online persona.

Case 2

Site UserID Email
TravelTalk.com AliceS Alice.Smith@Foo.com
Bookflights.com A.Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com
Arline.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com

In this case, although Alice uses the same email address to authenticate herself, she has for whatever reason created three online personas - AliceS, A.Smith and Alice Smith. Perhaps one is a work persona, one is a personal one for her friends only and one is an open one for all. We may safely assume that this is one individual, but we should maintain three separate personas for our analysis.

Case 3

Site UserID Email
TravelTalk.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com
Bookflights.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Bar.com
Arline.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foobar.com

This case is more difficult, there are three identical usernames, but the email authentication is different. Here we should assume that we have three different individuals - it would be dangerous to assume otherwise unless additional data was available - for example an image file or other authenticating information. In cases where the name is unusual, we may be tempted to resolve it into a single online persona, but mistakes can be made with potentially serious implications, both for the individuals concerned and for the organization that acts on the falsely resolved data.

Case 4

Site UserID Email
TravelTalk.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com
Bookflights.com Ali Smith Alice.Smith@Bar.com
Arline.com Alice Smith Alice.Smith@Foo.com

The final case is the most interesting for me, Alice has two separate online personas that are resolved by a common authenticating email address. In this case We can assume that Ali Smith is the same person as Alice Smith (as per Case 2), however, the fact that she has created two separate online personas may mean that she would want to keep them separated. However, she has also registered one of those online personas again with a different email address, allowing us to make the resolution. This presents us with a gray area - to resolve or not to resolve.

We could send an email to each of the email addresses asking permission to resolve those personas, but, as of today, I am sure that few would respond. However, in a future where our online identity, or attributes of an online persona become a factor in a measure of reputation, it may be in the individual's interest to make that resolution. For example, resolving my professional blog with my Linked In recommendations might be professionally useful to me.

Bibliography

There are a number of initiatives solving different parts of this puzzle - I urge you to take the time to investigate these further as they will be pertinent to addressing the needs of individuals and the organizations that are following them.