Identity Manglement

It was Dopplr that drove me over the edge on this rant. I almost feel bad for starting off with them, because as you will see, they’re just the bale of hay that broke the camel’s back.

I was updating my travel schedule, which included a trip to St. Louis. It told me that by coincidence, one of my connections would also be there, and would I like the web site to send a message, because, you know, we might want to meet up or something.

To which I thought, “Yes, you scrofulous maroon, she’s going to be there at the same time as me. It’s not a coincidence, it because I’m married to her. And thank you for the offer to relay a message, but not only do I have her on speed-dial, but she’ll be sitting in the window seat next to me, which means she’s going to arrive at quite nearly the same time as I do.”

That pretty much sums it up. You can’t swing a tweet around here anymore without having it mashed up into some new social network, and none of them have even a junior-high school clue about human relationships. You can have friends and secretly rank them by how good a friend they are, but not indicate the relationship that is by definition a public declaration. You can say you’re in a relationship and not looking for dates, but you can’t put in a link to whom. You can give testimonials, but you can’t use a joint checking account in two PayPal accounts.

This is all laughable, but not particularly funny. There are huge, gaping privacy issues all throughout these social networks, and who one is married to is something that is on the public record. You might be secretly married, but you can’t be privately married. And the nigh universal absence of marriage from social networks makes the term risible.

How did this miss the requirements documents? Do all the product managers come from an alternate universe where there are only studio apartments with dorm beds? Do Javascript programmers think that only classes can have dependance, that only objects have hierarchies?

It can’t be that they’re all kids living in their parents’ house, can it? I mean, surely not all their parents are divorced.

Why doesn’t Dopplr ask, “Hey, I notice that you live in the same city, seem to end up in the same city at the same time when you travel. I don’t mean to pry or anything, but, umm, is there a thing between you? Something social? Should I do anything?

The Identity Management people are just as bad, if not worse. They want to set up Identity Frameworks, but it’s pretty obvious that while Infocardia begins and ends with a vowel, it is not a community property state. (It’s also a land where no one ever hires a personal assistant, either. Mentioning this lack in the system will get you the most amazing dirty looks. Higginsopolis is a shiny egalitarian meritocracy where no one actually hires anyone else, because that’s merely slavery by the hour.) There’s no health insurance except for individuals, either, there.

Having constructed a system that is social but for some other culture than the one human beings live in, they wonder why there’s been no Identity Big Bang, and ponder deep ponderings about why after having build it, people aren’t flocking to it. I think I’m with you, Brain, but what if the chicken won’t wear the nylons?

There are, however, a few rays of hope. American Airlines does a pretty good job. In my profile, there’s a place to put another person, and when I buy two tickets it automatically fills out the second one for her. Even better, when she buys two tickets, it shows up in my profile, and I can dink the seating chart. It isn’t particularly intrusive either, as the relationship is tacit. It’s just set up so that there are defaults. If I buy a second ticket, it fills it out with her details.

While It is by no means perfect, we both like aisle seats, so it has this tendency to put us across the aisle rather than together. They need to improve this. It’s okay, we’re safe to sit together. We might get in each other’s space, but you won’t have to pull the plane over.

I know it’s hard to figure out what to do with relationships. Sometimes it’s easy. Dopplr could, for example, like the airline give people who travel a lot together the ability to declare for both. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, but if it’s any social web site that lets you say that you’re in a relationship ought to have a protocol for saying you’re in a relationship with a person. You can one-plus this to people as well as I can, for the Muslims and polyamorous.

And yeah, there are other shudder-to-think rough edges. What do you do about the guy or gal who is married and has someone on the side whom it’s not exactly talked about but everyone knows? This is indeed a hard problem, but hey, if it were easy, they’d be coding this up in India. Oh, right, they are coding it up in India. Silly me. If this were easy, they’d be doing the requirements documents in India.

I realize that it might not be good for the monitization model to admit to the existence of either Muslims or polys on your social network, but Jesus Haploid Christ, Second Life lets you have a marriage, although they charge to break it up rather than create it.

Rough edges aside, why the heck can’t I put the joint checking account on two PayPal accounts? It’s not like you can’t verify the names on the account. It’s because — it’s because — it’s because you have no social skills. You don’t understand people, those aren’t really your friends, and your mother dresses you funny. Admit it.

7 thoughts on “Identity Manglement

  1. God forbid you have children and want to link them to you too. Social sites are getting dumber, not smarter.

  2. B-b-but, I can be a part of a Mob! Who cares about marriage when I can be an Internet gangster? Don’t try to destroy my little online world, Mordaxus, or I’ll have to talk to Shostack and find out where you live. Maybe I’ll just ask around a couple websites. 😉

  3. Good rant.
    Note that there are some online networks (I’m thinking Geni) that let you make it very explicit who is related to whom; so much for “mother’s maiden name” as a password.
    I’m sure some 24 year old product manager shrugs and says “you’re not my target demographic” and “it’s complicated”.

  4. Some people of my acquaintance have so many spouses, former spouses, partners, associates, crushes, children, in- and out-laws that they need their own social networking support sites just to keep on top of it all …

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