Have you ever been to an unconference? You should!

Last week Petervan and I went to the 12th edition of the Internet Identity Workshop (#IIW hashtag on Twitter) in Mountain View, California.

The conference was part of a very intense trip centered on the topics of digital identity and social data. The goal was to progress our thinking and the incubation project on this subject, and prepare for Innotribe@Sibos in Toronto (where digital identity will be a key topic).  We were also joined by Mela  who started preparing an important Innotribe event in October as part of a major conference in California (we can’t yet talk about it as the organizers are ironing out the last details before going public, but watch this space… It will be, to use a very californian expression, awesome!  ).

I’ll come back to the social data and the October conference in future blogs, let me focus here on the IIW conference.

1. Unconference

The first AHA moment for me was the format – a conference that is an “unconference”. What this means is that there is no pre-defined agenda, and the first thing that happens every day is the actual agenda setting for the day.

On day one, we started by the introductions. We all (in excess of 200 people) sat around in a circle, and the moderator asked each one of us for our name and a short introduction. It took a while, but it is a surprisingly effective way to understand who is in the room (and I can tell you there were quite some movers and shakers in there!), and to put some faces on the names. Well worth the time spent and much much better than a simple list of participants on a piece of paper.

Then we went on the agenda setting.  Still in the circle, everyone could now propose a session topic and “pitch it” to attract people to it. There were numerous topics, and while this was going on, I figured that Petervan and I could be much more involved than simple participants, so (to Petervan’s great surprise  ) I raised my hand and proposed the following topic for the two of us to host:

“Is there a role for banks to be digital identity providers, and, if yes, is there money to be made in this business?”

The people around tended to display their appreciation to topics (hey, this is California!) so by the cheers and heads nodding we immediately knew we had the attention of many people.

After this is all done, the people who have proposed topics went to a big board that had all the time slots and rooms displayed, and, in an apparent chaos very similar to souks in Morrocan cities  , they found a time and place and stuck the description of their session on the board.

When the dust had settled, there you had it: an excellent agenda for the day! I was amazed! And this happened at the beginning each day. At the end of each day, people regrouped in the circle and shared the key points of the sessions.

2. The people

IIW, in its 12th edition, is clearly the place to be of you are interested in the social, legal and technical issues that arise with the identity, data and social layer of the internet. It is part of the IdentityCommons. I’ll be too long if I explained here the IdentityCommons, so I’ll let you read about it on their wiki . An interesting bunch and way to organise themselves.

The 12th edition had people from all horizons – from developers to policy makers, from newbies to very senior industry figures, from technologists to social sciences observers. Here is a sampling of the interesting people I met and some suggestions for you to follow on Twitter:

– Kaliya Hamlin (@identitywoman), aka “the identity woman”, named by journalists as one of the “most influentual women in tech”. Co-organiser of the event, expert in user-centric identity and end-user privacy advocate.
– Doc Searls (@dsearls), another co-organiser, one of the authors of “The Cluetrain Manifesto ” (recommended reading!), editor of the Linux Journal and open source advocate.
– Tony Fish (@tonyfish), author of “My Digital Footprint ” (another recommended reading) and venture capitalist.
– Craig Burton (@craigburton),  a visionary and clearly one of the most respected persons at IIW, creator of netware open systems (while at Novell), the internet service model and other things that we use every day on the internet.
– Drummond Reed (@drummondreed), CEO of connect.me
– Don Thibeau (@4Thibeau), executive director and chairman of the OpenID Foundation
– Andreas Weigend (@aweigend), was chief scientist at Amazon.com, now professor at Stanford and director of the social data lab.
-Mary Hodder (@MaryHodder), founder of Dabble, a video search and metadata company, writes at Napsterization about disruptive technologies
– Gary L Thompson (@anewcloud), co-founder of Cloud, inc (www.cloudinc.org )
– Venessa Miemis (@venessamiemis), a well know blogger on technology and innovation (www.emergentbydesign.com ), and a regular at Innotribe events
– @Heathervescent, “edge-walker” and researcher in the field of digital identity.

3. Take-away

I’ve been way too long already in this blog (thanks for reading, if you made it to here  ), so, at the risk of reducing the richness of the conference considerably, I’ll focus one just this one AHA take-away:

Digital identity is not about authentication. Digital identity is about social data.

To illustrate, look at the picture below – it s a representation of me, Kosta Peric, as produced by an application that scans the web in search of my name. The app is part of a research program at MIT, you can try it for yourself here .

What it shows in fact is a “digital persona”, a collection of social data about me. “Social data” means data that I have shared through various channels (twitter, linkedin, blog posts, etc).

Moving forward, digital identity will be about managing and protecting digital personas and the associated collection of social data.

This trend is summed up in what is now called VRM – Vendor Relationship Management. You can read about it here .  To put it simply: VRM will be about controlling how vendors and merchants will access your data in electronic transactions.

How do you think this may be used by banks? By SWIFT?


(and BTW, Petervan’s and mine session at IIW was packed!  )


One thought on “Have you ever been to an unconference? You should!

  1. Pingback: Innotribe, back to school in Stanford university « copernicc

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