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
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Kaliya Hamlin and Jean Russell share a dialogue, learning from each other about reputations and currency. (I write in third person because I want to attribute appropriately to each, and yet this is done together). We have a sense of the overall map of ideas, and we want to start with some core concepts that the work depends upon.

We begin with identifiers. We discuss below what identifiers are and how they work in meat-space. Our next post covers identifiers in the digital context.

Jean: SO….What is an identifier?

Kaliya: An identifier is a pointer to a person or an object

Jean: A pointer to a person or an object?

Kaliya: There are generic identifiers – rose, cup, chair…

Jean: So a word can be an identifier?

Eames chair arrivedKaliya: Yes. To have a more specific identifier “the green chair over in the corner” identifies it (the specific green chair) …relative to others in the same context – a room, for example.

Jean: Okay, I think I get what you mean by pointer. An identifier allows you to identify something to someone else in a shared context.

Kaliya: Yes. So people’s names identify them in our shared social spaces. They are identifiers too.

Jean: So in meat-space we are using identifiers all the time when we use language together.

Kaliya: However, I am not my name, I have a name – it points to me. You have a name – it points to you.

Jean: Okay, so the name and what it refers to are not the same thing. One is pointing at the other. And there are different kinds of identifiers, then? Like chair is vague and green chair in the corner is specific and my name is specific to me, pretty much.

Kaliya: Chair is a generic identifier, yes. Well, it is specific to you in a social context. Green chair in the corner is more specific. I might want to identify a very particular green chair. I would look on the chair to find the manufacture serial number for it, or I might want it in my company/personal inventory and “assign” it a number identifier for that specific chair.

Jean: Right, so there are degrees of specificity in identifiers.

Kaliya: So people’s name are specific in a social context. They might be more or less “specific” because there is more than one person named Jean in the world and even with my name there is more then one Kaliya. But in my social world – the people I know – I am the only Kaliya. I know several Mary’s though so I have to get more specific when talking about them using a last initial or a last name.

Jean: Okay, so there is an element of uniqueness that is important in an identifier? To successfully identify the object, the identifier needs to be unique?

Kaliya: Yes, unique within the context.

Jean: So we seem to navigate this pretty well in our everyday lives, and we ask for more specificity when we need it.

Kaliya: Yes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: juhansonin