Why I Sign my Emails with “=”

Earlier today, a colleague asked me why I sign my emails with an equals sign (“=Eugene”), which I’ve been doing since 2004.

The short, non-technical answer is that I was involved with a group back in the day that was promoting a new “universal” identifier scheme for people called i-names. Imagine a Twitter handle that worked on any platform, not just on Twitter, and that used an equal sign instead of an at sign (“@”). That’s essentially what an i-name was. Mine was =Eugene. (Actually, it wasn’t, but that’s a longer story.)

That initiative failed, but I just kept signing my emails that way out of habit. It doesn’t look that different from signing with an em-dash (“—”), and only a few folks have ever asked me about it.

Twitter, Facebook, and Social Boundaries

Speaking of tweets and Twitter, I finally succumbed and activated my Twitter account a few weeks ago. Come follow me! I had many reasons for doing so, but the kicker was probably learning that Twitter is in fact for old people. Seriously, my main reason was that I’ve been blog-free for many months, and I wanted to maintain a lighter-weight Visible Pulse for sharing ideas and letting people know that I was still alive.    (MTL)

Unlike my experience with this blog, I initially found it hard to start tweeting. I love to share ideas, but I don’t like talking about myself. My blog has been great for that, and I figured I’d use Twitter the same way. But it’s hard to do in 140 characters. It’s much easier to mention what I had for breakfast than it is to share some brilliant new insight, although simply tweeting “Eureka!” probably fulfills the latter need quite nicely.    (MTM)

So to get going on Twitter, I used a trick that I never had to use with my blog. I built an audience. I started following people, and many of them reciprocated. Now tweeting was about having a conversation with the people in my network. I didn’t have to do this with my blog, because I was motivated enough to start sharing my ideas without it. Getting that audience simply furthered that motivation (the past few months not withstanding).    (MTN)

This is obvious stuff to people who already blog or tweet regularly, but it’s not obvious to those who don’t, and when it’s explicitly understood, it can be used to your advantage. This is why Pattern Languages are so useful.    (MTO)

It would be interesting to do some analytics on tweeting based on size of social networks. For example, do people with larger social networks tweet more?    (MTP)

Another nice Twitter pattern is the character limit: Constrained Space. Many people have told me that they find blogging intimidating, because they feel a lot of pressure to actually write something. The character constraint relieves that pressure. It’s easier to come up with a 140 character message than it is to fill a blank slate. Size of space matters.    (MTQ)

The issue I’m now having with Twitter is with social boundaries, and not surprisingly, the cause of this isn’t Twitter at all. It’s Facebook. My close colleagues know that I am obsessed with Facebook, not because of some deep seeded need to feel like I have a lot of friends, but because I think it is one of the most well-designed online tool I have ever seen. There are all of these well thought out social patterns deeply embedded in the tool.    (MTR)

Because of this, it’s no surprise that so many people across so many different networks use it. My pattern for studying Social Network sites has always been to only connect to people who connect to me first, then to watch what happens. With the vast majority of sites, it’s the same group of people end up pinging me. In other cases, certain niches become apparent. Facebook is the first Social Network tool I’ve used where people across almost all of the different communities of which I’m a part have found and reached out to me.    (MTS)

The problem is that Social Networks are not frictionless. You can’t just mix them all up and expect everything to be wonderful. A while back, Pamela Dingle told a great anecdote that wonderfully portrayed some of the unsavory consequences of these boundary issues.    (MTT)

One of the things that exacerbates Facebook’s challenges with Social Network friction is its open API. For a lot of reasons, Facebook has encouraged people across many different networks to intentionally come together in a shared space. However, its API allows people to bring new networks to the same shared space unintentionally.    (MTU)

I enjoy the status updates on Facebook, and so when I started tweeting, I decided to sync Twitter with my Facebook status. By doing so, my audience went from a somewhat closed community of folks who speak the same Shared Language to a much larger community of folks, many of whom think I’ve gone nuts. These include people like high school friends, most of whom find the idea of posting a picture that’s not hidden behind a password absolutely ludicrous.    (MTV)

Those of us who have been part of Identity Commons for a long time have been talking about these issues for ages, yet it’s fascinating to experience them firsthand. I don’t find them that big a deal, because I have well-defined boundaries that I think work with my different networks. I don’t mention people by name unless I know they’re comfortable with it or I’m attributing an idea to someone. I’ll happily write about what I had for breakfast (Tartine bread and gruyere this morning), but I won’t write about my dating life.    (MTW)

I don’t know how long the Twitter experiment will last. It still feels a bit uncomfortable, but it’s been fascinating, and I probably won’t stop anytime soon.    (MTX)

Internet Identity Workshop 2007, Day Two

My big takeaway from this rendition of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) continues to be the growing maturity of this community as well as the influx of new faces. This manifested itself in interesting ways in Open Space today. As Phil Windley noted in his excellent synopsis of the day, almost half the room stood up to propose sessions, which was quite stunning.    (M9Y)

While there were a number of interesting topics posted, most of the ones I attended were more bull sessions than work sessions. That’s not a bad thing — talk is necessary for building Shared Understanding — but you also want to make sure that the folks who are in a position to work are working. And that’s what happened. There were a lot of ad hoc, project-oriented meetings and plotting happening outside of the sessions.    (M9Z)

This is a good lesson on the nature of Open Space, especially when these gatherings occur repeatedly in a community of practice. Norms emerge and evolve. Communities go through cycles, and the Open Space experience shifts with each cycle.    (MA0)

I managed to eavesdrop on part of a conversation between Lisa Dusseault and Lisa Heft about Open Space and this conference in particular. Lisa Dusseault was bemoaning the lack of Shared Understanding among all the participants, and explained that at IETF and similar gatherings, there was always a baseline of knowledge across participants, because there were papers, and people were expected to read them ahead of time. Pre-work is not anathema to Open Space, and it’s great if you can get folks to do it. In this particular community, I think it’s possible. But you still have to be careful when considering other ways of designing for this challenge.    (MA1)

A few weeks ago, Al Selvin told me about his experiences at CHI conferences. The first time he went, he was new to the field, and it was a wonderful learning experience. The following year, he attended again, and the experience was not as good. Why? Because it was essentially identical to the previous year. People were basically the same things as they had before.    (MA2)

What’s the difference between what happens at Open Space versus most academic conferences? Co-creation — aka collaboration aka real work — is a key part of the process. People, both old and new, get together to evolve their Shared Understanding and something new and wonderful emerges from that. You have both learning and co-creation, which are really two sides of the same coin. Sadly, many conferences are all about one-sided coins.    (MA3)

I think there are ways to make the first day even more effective for new members of the community. We heard some great ideas for this at Kaliya Hamlin‘s session on this topic, and I expect her to do great things with this feedback.    (MA4)

Speaking of community, I held a session on Identity Commons. A lot of folks who have been active in the creation process participated, as did key members of our community. One of the things I wanted to make crystal clear to folks was that ultimately, Identity Commons was simply the name of this community. As it happens, this name represents both the intent and values of this community (or in chaordic speak, the purpose and principles). What’s really unique about our values is how we collaborate with each other. There is in fact a legal entity called Identity Commons, but it is extremely lightweight and open. It’s sole purpose is to manage the shared assets of this community in an open, grassroots way.    (MA5)

The organizational elements of this entity are fascinating in and of themselves. The challenge that most organizations like Identity Commons face is, how do you embrace an identity (which implies creating a boundary between you and others) while remaining open (keeping that boundary permeable and malleable). (Boundaries and identity as they pertain to leadership were major themes at the Leadership Learning Community Evaluation Learning Circle last January, yet another instance of all my different worlds colliding.) Complicating all of this is the challenge of sustainability.    (MA6)

In order to make decisions, a community must define who its members are. Most organizations define membership as some combination of vetting, voting, and payment. I believe that a pay-to-play membership model is the main source of problems most organizations like these face. It’s simply a lazy approach to sustainability. There are other ways to be sustainable without destroying the integrity of your community.    (MA7)

I could go on and on about this, and I eventually will, but not right now. The challenge we currently face is that the growth of the community outpaced the reformation of the new Identity Commons. While we were busy gaining a collective understanding of what we were trying to do, a process that took well over a year, the overall community grew on us. Now, we’re faced with the challenge of getting folks to think of this community as Identity Commons, rather than as some entity that a bunch of folks are working on. I like to call this going from “they” to “we.”    (MA8)

Conversations with folks about this today made me realize that I was overthinking the problem. (Shocker!) The problem is as challenging as it was before, but I think the solution is relatively straightforward: good ol’ fashion community-building, starting with the existing social network. As complex and multilayered as all this stuff is, I think we can keep the message simple, which will greatly aid our cause.    (MA9)

Miscellaneous thoughts from day two:    (MAA)

  • I chatted with Larry Drebes of JanRain about Pibb, and he assured me that they would be adding Permalinks soon, as well as other cool features such as export. Call me a convert. Now I’ve got to remember to talk to them about the perplog vision, and how those ideas could be integrated into Pibb to make it seriously kick butt. I’m also going to evangelize at RoCoCo (RecentChangesCamp Montreal) later this week.    (MAB)
  • I am really impressed with how much OSIS has accomplished over the past six months. Kudos to Dale Olds and Johannes Ernst for their leadership on this project, and kudos to Dale and Pamela Dingle for a really cool interop code session this afternoon. Despite some difficulties with the wireless, it looked like they got a lot of stuff done.    (MAC)
  • Brilliant move on Kaliya’s part to invite Open Space facilitator Lisa Heft to participate. She’s an outsider to this community, but she’s a wonderful observer of people, and it’s been great hearing her take on things. She’s also performing a nifty experiment which will be unleashed on everybody tomorrow afternoon.    (MAD)
  • I chatted a bit with Kevin Marks this evening about microformats and his experience as a new Googler. When I think of Kevin, I don’t immediately think Google, but he does work there now, so technically, Google was represented at the workshop. Ben Laurie, another Googler, has also been an active participant in this community. However, as much as I generally love Google, I have been extremely disappointed in its overall participation and presence in the identity community. The Google identity experience is one of the worst on the Internet, which is all the more notable when compared to its consistent track record of superior web experiences. It’s also using its own proprietary identity protocols, which is a travesty. There are good solutions to all of this, and yet, Google has thus far ignored the quality work in this community. I’d love to see Google adopt OpenID, but I’ll settle for more folks involved with identity at Google simply participating in this community.    (MAE)

Internet Identity Workshop 2007, Day One

Quick thoughts from day one of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW):    (M9G)

  • This is the fourth IIW. The first one was in October 2005. Amazing. It feels like we’ve been doing these for at least five years.    (M9H)
  • Over half of the participants were there for the first time.    (M9I)
  • I opened the conference with an introduction to Identity Commons. Got some good feedback, and great support from others who have been active in the rebirth of Identity Commons. My big goal is to get the community to think of Identity Commons as “we,” not “they.” We’ll see how successful we are at the end of this workshop.    (M9J)
  • We participated in a nice exercise where folks got into small groups and surfaced questions. It got people interacting, and as Phil Windley noted afterwards, people stayed in small groups chatting away well after the day had ended.    (M9K)
  • One thing that struck me about the group exercise: I heard no new questions. A common characteristic of Wicked Problems is not knowing what the questions are. A good number of us seemed to have successfully identified most of the key questions a long time ago. This is both a sign of progress and of concern. We as a community are starting to face growing pains, and community memory is becoming more and more of an issue. Doc Searls suggested that in addition to surfacing the questions, we should have asked, “Okay, who has the answers?” I think some variation of that would have made an excellent complementary exercise.    (M9M)
  • I like Pibb, JanRain‘s Web-based real-time group chat tool that uses OpenID. (Think IRC on the Web with OpenID for identities.) But I also agree with Chris Messina; Pibb needs permalinks — granular as well as thread-level.    (M9N)
  • We had a series of lightning presentations following the group exercise. They were all well done. Remarkably, they were all about basically the same thing, only told from different angles, something that Mary Hodder also observed. I think this is a good sign. It shows the ongoing convergence of our community. There was also a lot of Spotlight On Others — folks referring to each other’s work, even borrowing slides from each other — another sign of a healthy community.    (M9O)
  • There wasn’t anything new conceptually, but there were many more implementations, yet another sign of progress. Speed Geeking basically consisted of 15 different implementations of Single Sign-On, which doesn’t make good fodder for demos, but which is great for the community.    (M9P)
  • Two Speed Geeking projects stood out: Vidoop and Sxipper. Vidoop is user authentication via image recognition and categorization, which in and of itself is interesting. But what got people buzzing was its business model: sponsoring images that would be displayed to users for authentication. I don’t know if it’s viable, but it’s definitely creative. Sxipper is a Firefox plugin that handles account registration and login. What’s really interesting is what’s happening beneath the covers: It’s essentially an OpenID Identity Broker running from your browser. It looked very slick; I’m looking forward to playing with it.    (M9Q)
  • Doc Searls gave his traditional day one closing talk. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this talk many times, but I never tire of listening to him speak. He’s just a fantastic storyteller, and he’s always on point.    (M9R)
  • I carpooled with Fen Labalme, and as we were discussing our takeaways on the way back, he said, “I’m glad I didn’t sit with you at dinner.” He wasn’t joking, and I wasn’t offended! I felt the same way! One of the really special things about this community is that there are no snobs. We all like to hang out with each other, but we all also really value quality time with folks we don’t know. You could really see this at dinner. I didn’t see any cliques, and there was plenty of mixing.    (M9S)

Voting, Collective Leadership, and Identity Commons

Thanks to next week’s Creating Space, Collective Leadership has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s also been a key element of the new Identity Commons. One of the issues we’ve been grappling with is decision-making. To understand why this is a challenge, you have to understand the underlying structure and philosophy of the organization.    (M5R)

Ultimately, Identity Commons is a Community Mark that represents a set of values concerning Digital Identity. It’s a name bestowed on the community of folks who care about User-Centric Identity. If you care about this stuff, then you are part of Identity Commons. There is nothing to join, and you are free to use the name and logo as a way of demonstrating your support of these values.    (M5S)

Why this is such a powerful and important construct is a topic for another day. What’s interesting about this particular community is that there’s also a corresponding legal structure, a nonprofit organization that is in the process of being incorporated. This organization consists of community “Stewards” — people appointed by the community to represent the interests of particular sub-communities (“Working Groups”) and who are responsible for managing the tangible assets of the commons. There are rules for becoming Working Groups and Stewards, but they are extremely lightweight.    (M5T)

All of the Stewards comprise a Stewards Council. Each Steward has an equal vote on all matters. There is a Chair, but that position is mostly facilitative. There is also a Chief Catalyst, someone (not necessarily a Steward) who is responsible for handling the operational duties of the organization and catalyzing action in the community.    (M5U)

It’s a fascinating, but delicate structure. The Stewards Council has an important leadership responsibility, but that role is distributed equally among all of the Stewards. How do Stewards exercise leadership effectively given this structure? Decision-making via voting is clumsy in many contexts, and yet that’s the only process that we’ve actually defined.    (M5V)

We’ve had a number of interesting conversations on the topic, and the latest discussion recently surfaced a lurker, Martien Van Steenbergen, who cited an interesting reference on holacracy. Martien quotes the following excerpt (emphasis his):    (M5W)

Another common question is about the “possible votes” in integrative decision making. At first it can sound like there are two possible votes on a proposed decision — “consent” or “object” — though that’s missing a key point. Consent isn’t about “votes” at all; the idea of a vote doesn’t make sense in the context of consent. There are no votes, and people do not vote.    (M5X)

People do say whether they know of a reason why the proposed decision is outside the limits of tolerance of any aspect of the system, and then decision making continues to integrate that new information. This isn’t the same as most consensus-based processes — either in theory or in practice — although it does sound similar at first, especially before an actual meeting that seeks consent is witnessed.    (M5Y)

This quote is keying on the difference between Collective Leadership and consensus leadership. They are not the same thing. With Collective Leadership, you are acknowledging the multi-faceted requirements of leadership, and you are empowering those best suited to meet those requirements to fulfill that leadership role. You are not voting on every decision, which would be a sure path to disaster.    (M5Z)

One of the ways this manifests itself is by making decisions “without objection.” This is a technique from Roberts Rules Of Order that Joaquin Miller brought to our attention. Essentially, you empower people to act, unless someone in the group objects, at which point an alternative process kicks in. Everyone still has a voice in the decisions, but it is a proactive rather than a reactive style, and it encourages action rather than stagnation.    (M60)

I believe that when you have great collaborative process, voting is a rubber stamping process, even when the topic is controversial. In other words, the actual decision-making process starts well before any vote happens. Healthy deliberation results in Shared Understanding, which in turn helps to surface clear courses of action that navigate through the obstacles of contradictory ideologies. When there is pressure for movement (another pattern of high-performance collaboration), then people will rally around those courses of action.    (M61)