Identity Reform

Chris Ceppi has gone further in explaining his ideas around ‘Identity Reform’. And now I understand the interesting point he is making. We are talking about technological reform.

In an earlier post I referenced the work of Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and wordsmith who has, regrettably since I often find myself at odds with his positions, been very successful at promoting legislative initiatives by correctly determining the most compelling words to use to promote them. Luntz has done loads of research showing the dramatic effect using different words can have on how the same idea is received. A few notable examples from politics in last few years include:

  • Eliminating the “Estate Tax” is much less popular than eliminating the “Death Tax” – same legislation, broader appeal since everyone dies, but not everyone has an estate worth worrying about.
  • “Welfare Cuts” raised fears and were not popular, “Welfare Reform” (including cuts) passed with broad support under Clinton.
  • Social Security “Phase out” is a non starter, “Private Accounts” are less unpopular but still better than “Privatization”.

The connotations triggered by word choice can ultimately determine whether an idea flies in the mainstream or not – this is why Luntz makes a good living helping Republican politicians craft the language they use to market less than popular initiatives. Given the high degree of suspicion of new identity technology (see ACLU Pizza, attitudes toward Microsoft, etc.) in the general public, I think it is important for those of us developing new technology in this space to be very conscious of the language we use to frame our work.

My view is that the technical innovation surrounding identity is, in fact, part of an ad hoc reform effort. The technical systems, business practices, and regulatory regimes that currently touch identity are primitive and badly broken – these systems and practices need to be upgraded to better serve the interests of important stakeholders.

So what is the most compelling way to communicate the need for technical innovation in the current climate of mistrust and borderline paranoia about identity? Emphasizing the sorry state of the status quo and calling for ‘Identity Reform’ is my current best guess.

These days I'm really focussed on the need to develop a cross-platform system embracing technical alternatives that allow users to select specific variants which ‘work best’ for them. We need to think in terms of an “identity bus” that allows individuals and organizations to “plug in” such alternatives. I see the emergence of these alternatives as being the essential vehicle by which all the relevant parties can posit and influence our digital identity future.

Doing in this could indeed be called a reform of the current chaotic and primitive status quo.

Published by

Kim Cameron

Work on identity.