1/ Identity and the Internet of Record

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It should come as no surprise to most of you know me, or have ever read this blog before: over the next few years I expect to see dramatically accelerating interest in networks and services that allow us to share and interact with one another in ways that are not (or are not permanently) part of the Internet of Record that we know today.

Now when I say “Internet of Record,” I’m not talking about something like this blog or Medium, which I maintain with the explicit goal of having a particular corner of the Internet that is my own — and one that I do see as archival in the traditional sense.

Rather, I’m talking about the Internet of Facebook posts and tweets, casual Tumblr reblogs and Instagram selfies. We put these things online without intending them to hang around forever, but today’s Internet defaults to permanence and some degree of discoverability. Any given item may become more difficult to find as time passes, but unless we actively remove things they will persist as a part of our presence — our identities — on the Internet.

The first generation of conscious alternatives to the Internet of Record have been focused on either ephemerality (e.g. Snapchat, Confide) or anonymity (e.g. Secret, Whisper). All of these services are interesting in different ways, but I believe that they are also straightforward reactions to the rise of monolithic identity online: they are defined as much by being not like Facebook as by their own characteristics.

These services represent a different perspective on online identity, but not yet a different construction of that identity.

To borrow from Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, we are currently trying to make something new fit into our established paradigm — that of identity online, in this case — and not yet taking the “revolutionary” step of actually re-evaluating the assumptions that underlie that paradigm.

The service is “anonymous,” but your Facebook account defines the social context for those anonymous messages; messages disappear after being read, but you send those messages to the contact list already in your phone. This generation of services feels to me different but also the same, which leads us into the second part of this series.