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The value of identity

November 2, 2022

A major problem with most social media is that its is filled with trolls, scammers, and farmed bots. There is real value in knowing that some message originates from an actual person, presenting themself authentically. And in being able to demonstrate that to others. And in the rest not determining the digital environment.

Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean the market will provide it. A company will do so only if that somehow serves the firm’s interests.

Advertising is the primary revenue model for companies providing social media platforms and other internet services free to the consumer. It is a revenue model that significantly restricts what services a company provides, requiring them to focus on engagement and eyeballs. None of the platforms so funded have bothered to provide much identity to their users.

With one near exception. Twitter has offered the blue check mark to celebrities and enterprises who want others to know the authentic source of their tweets. It correctly sussed that would help build audience, for those who have the blue checks, and for Twitter.

It is a “near exception,” because it isn’t available to everyone. Likely because it would be too expensive for Twitter to do so, under a pure advertising model. So I cheer Musk deciding to put a price on that service. The next logical steps are to make it available to everyone. And to use it to filter content in various ways. That will turn Twitter into something quite different from what it was before. And quite different from existing social media. I suspect few rightly imagine how different that environment would be.

The ultimate payback comes from letting people export their authenticated identity. Google provides single sign-on. Many other websites and platform make use of that, despite the fact that all it exports is a validated email address. A connected platform can determine that an edge device is logged into, as example. That provides no clue who created the account. It surprises me a bit that Google hasn’t thought to build more on top of that, with regard to establishing identity. My suspicion is that the first company that establishes itself as the primary source for authenticating identity on the internet will become extremely valuable. More valuable than Twitter was, by orders of magnitude.

Yes, Musk has indeed bought himself a problem. To the extent that he is thinking with his business hat, and not just scratching a political itch, it is because he wants to make it different. The odds, as always, are against success. I see quite a few challenges to making that pivot. People hate the subscription model. For good reason. Still, as a former tech entrepreneur, I’m curious to watch the experiment.


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