Identifiers in a Digital Context

Continuing the conversation between Jean and Kaliya about identifiers:

Jean: Can you explain what identifiers mean in the digital environment?

Kaliya: So, when I am at a dinner party with two Mary’s and having a conversation you signal who you are talking to/about via gestures and stuff – you layer in more info about who you are talking about. Or you might, in a conversation in digital chat, say “Mary R” or “Mary H” because you don’t have bodies and social gestures to layer in. So when we go into digital realm – on the internet, what is the context we are in. So when someone goes to a website and gets an account, they get a username.

Jean: Right, I do that all the time. What does that mean?

Kaliya: The site – often checks to see if anyone else has that username, if they do…you can’t have it because someone else has “that” identifier already.

Jean: So I might be able to get ‘Jean Russell’ on one site but not on another, for example?

Kaliya: Well likely you wouldn’t have a space in your username, so ‘JeanRussell’ or ‘Jean_Russell’

Jean: Ok, so no space, so the code can read it, but I might get ‘JeanRussell’ on one space but not on another, on that next space I get ‘JeanRussell6’

Kaliya: In a way, identifiers for people are like digital bodies, but they were weird cause they wouldn’t let you bring a “body” from another site/context into their site/context.

Jean: Every site you went to – every new site – they would make you get a new “body” a new identifier for that site. Ah… I don’t want to keep track of all those bodies. This is so annoying. I am one person. I want my name to be the same regardless of what site I am on.

Kaliya: Well yes – exactly, so the question is how do you have a unique identifier, that “works” for you across the whole internet. This is what OpenID does. It creates a way for you prove you “own” or “have control of” (as in knowing the password for an account). You need to be Unique within a bigger context then just that website, so the large sites allow users to take the identifier within their space and use it other places. So you can use your Yahoo! ID or MySpace ID and log into other websites. OR you could go and buy a domain name just for you – and use it. So I own and it is set up so that I can use it as my open ID.

Jean: Well that seems to make it easier. But I still don’t get how it is working compared to the JeanRussell who already signed into this site I am trying to get into

Kaliya: You are just JeanRussell within that context – that website. Identifiers in the digital world, to be effective – need to be unique globally. URLs are all Unique. There is a name space….and domain names – are unique, a global registry, makes sure that no two people/companies/organizations own the same domain name.

Diigo OpenID sign in
Creative Commons License photo credit: bpedro