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online identity boils down to attributes

Your Real Identity is Just a Series of Attributes

Written By:
Matt Hubbard

Tired of being a number? So are we. That’s old-school.

Welcome to a better paradigm, where our identities are a series of public attributes.

How Identity Used to Work

The old paradigm held that the best way to identify someone is a unique ID, name, or address. Unfortunately, this model assumes everyone has a valid ID, or that everyone has a unique name and unchanging physical and email addresses. Problem is, we don’t.

ID cards may be unique, but many people never get one. Physical and email addresses change all the time. Even the most unusual names usually have doppelgangers somewhere. As a result, businesses can’t identify you – so they treat you like a number, and you receive a flood of advertisements for products you don’t care about.

We need a new model for identity – one based on compiling relevant public attributes like social network profiles. Critics may cite privacy concerns, but as we’ve described before, the move to resolve digital identity is just typical human behavior in electronic form. In most cases, having this information is productive and helpful for all parties, such as when you’re preparing for a job interview and learning about the hiring manager’s title, career history, influence topics, etc. As the hiring manager, you’d expect this – and you might even hold it against the candidate if they walked in blind.

Sorting Through the Mess

Viewed separately, attributes aren’t always helpful. I have a Myspace page, but I haven’t updated it since Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. It is unique to me and would show my name, but it doesn’t add much to my public persona. Even if it was current – like my Foursquare account – it isn’t nearly as informative as my LinkedIn profile or Facebook page.

For this reason, an interested party needs to determine what is “primary” about me – meaning which attributes most accurately reflect my current online persona. For example, what is my current avatar?  My current job title and employer? The Twitter feed I use most often for professional tweets?

Neither Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, nor Twitter can yet claim to be the primary repository of online personas, so searchers need to look at as many public sources as possible (for example, our Contact API looks at over 120 social networks and other public repositories). Good information is often dispersed – the key to resolving online identity is finding these primary attributes in a sea of data.

Automating the Process

So how do we harness this new paradigm for business? A human can do research – but humans are slow and prone to mistakes. Thus the need for automation: using complex algorithms to determine the most current, accurate information. Equally important is the need for a software delivery mechanism that is simple, fast, and easy to integrate, like a RESTful API.

It’s not a perfect process (identity resolution is challenging under the hood), but the results are useful for segmenting customers, personalizing customer service, researching business opportunities, and countless other applications. At its core, resolving identity is about turning an individual from a number into a real person, and making communication personal and appropriate.

So next time you hear someone complain about being “treated like a number,” tell them not to worry – the paradigm of treating people like numbers is changing. Ironically, computers are doing more to humanize us in the digital era than humans ever could before.

Check out our API plans to see how you can put identity resolution to work in your business.

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