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Dion Hinchliffe's SOA Blog: How Can We Best Make "The Writeable Web" A Responsible Place?

Will Unforgeable, Non-Centrally Verifiable ID be the Future of the Writeable Web?

It was bound to happen, for sure.  We all love the concept of a two-way Web, where most online content is created and edited in a open, cooperative fashion.  Heck, many of us are actually pretty sure this is destined to be the future of the Internet.  However, unbounded openness can also be an invitation to private consternation, public embarassment, or worse. 

My recent post about  ways to make good social software, which describes some fairly well proven best practices, notes that you have to have certain barriers to participation or things can spin out of control.  Like they have apparently done at the Washington Post blog, where they publically shut all comments down on Friday, to some considerable uproar.  It does make you wonder that if a big, relatively forward thinking public icon like the Post can't control the writeable Web, what chance will other folks have?

Alex Barnett, a fellow member of the Web 2.0 Workgroup, feels however that making content on the Web even more easily editable and changeable is a desirable goal.  And I totally agree with him, this despite the fact that the more freedom and power to change things that you provide to the world at large, the more likely it will be misused.  It's a paradoxically double-edged sword: The more control you hand over to your Web visitors, the more control you need to exert yourself.


The Two Wa Web with Identity 2.0
Figure 1: Will techniques like Identity 2.0 help control the writeable web?


What we need is ways to encourage responsible use of the writeable Web, the abilities of which Web 2.0 software will only increasingly provide in the near future.  Not that it will stop the big guys from ongoing attempts to control content centrally, though it's unlikely to succeed.

What are the options?  Not many yet, but it certainly needs to be solved or legal resrictions like the recent full-blown federal prohibition on anonymous annoying messages might look like a cakewalk.   We have the ability to police ourselves still and provide de facto protection against the very mischievious conduct that our social software enables.  I encourage us to solve it before others come up with more hard-to-undo solutions using more traditional means (i.e. legislation and worse.)

While I don't have the answers, I do believe I have some starting points.  One is in forcing writeable parties to identify themselves in an unforgeable fashion.  If you want to comment on a blog or edit a wiki, all you need to do is identify yourself using a trusted digital ID.  Unfortunately, central ID validation mechanisms and authorities are strongly disliked for a number of reasons including lack of scalability (you try to reliably validate 1 billion Internet users' identity 20-30 times a day) and usage privacy (most people love the idea of unforgeable Web-based ID, as long as they don't have to give up their privacy every time they use it.)

Enter solutions like Identity 2.0.  I've written recently about Identity 2.0 and Dick Hardt and some of the great things he's been trying to do in this arena, but it may just be the answer.

Identity 2.0 represents a concept of identification that resembles an online driver's license or passport (see Dick's terrific, and visceral, presentation on Identity 2.0 here.)  If I understand it fully, Identity 2.0-compliant credentials can be shown to anyone and validated on the spot, without consulting a validating authority.

So, controlling anarchy on the writetable Web might be as simple asking that folks flash their Identity 2.0 credential right before they change something on the Internet.  This ensures their personal identity is attached to the change.  And creating a verifiable chain of evidence might be all it takes for people to act more responsibily.  Wiki vandalism, comment flaming, and other forms of anonymous mischief on the writeable Web may be eliminated forever when you know that your ID will be attached to it in perpetuity, affecting your hireability, possible suitability for public office, and more, forever. 

Of course, there will be attendance problems including a rapidly vanishing anonymity on the Web.  But that just might remain a nice artifact of being a read-only Web user.

What do you think?  Will unforgeable, non-centrally verifiable ID be the future of the writeable Web?

posted Sunday, 22 January 2006

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