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January 17, 2005


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I absolutely agree with you on the importance of "the context of networked media" for its efficacy in facilitating democratic governance or resistance. Yet context exists within as well as around online networked media at least, and at many granular levels.

Unfortunately, however the diverse social web applications that mediate online networked media each impose their own ontologies of identity onto their users and the media they create. The contexts within online networked media tend to be
shaped as much by the ad hoc and fragmented patterning of disparate applications' ontologies as by the human relationships and communities these applications seek to facilitate.

This ontological fragmentation of the social web's fabric tends to act to inhibit the formation of strong, network-pervasive and persistent social groupings—people's energy is taken up in processing the vast quantities of information in the network, ploughing laboriously through endless newsfeed items and emails, rather than the information serving them according to the individual and communal identities they express within that network.

This is the background to one of the main current focii of social web developers and thinkers—the evolution of a digital identity meta-network that will put people (and their ontologies) back at the centre of their own digital life.


Thanks for your comment--really interesting. Let me see if I understand. I think part of the difficulty for me is getting a sense of how you are using the terms ontology and identity. In the last paragraph you use ontologies in the plural--do you have in mind something like people's different ways of being in and experiencing the world? And is your point that social web developers are thinking and working on ways for people's digital experiences to stem more from their own ways of experiencing the world rather than coming from the software?

I don't know what you mean by the idea of a digital identity meta network. Does it have something to do with a larger symbolic frame that enables particular ways of being to be recognized in a certain way? Could you expand a bit?

When you say that social web applications impose their own 'ontologies of identity' on users, what does that mean? Does it have something to do with underlying expectations of what a user is or does? How to guide, push, channel users through the environment?
(I'm not trying to be a pedant here; it's actually an effort in translation--to reference a previous exchange.)

What does it mean to say that an application has an ontology?

I'll stop with these questions for now.


Pretty much everything you hazard in your reply to my comment is spot on. But here's a provisional answer to your questions about ontologies (incidentally, don't read too much into my choice of singular or plural, as I tend to be a bit sloppy in that regard. : )

When I talk of a social web application's ontology of identity, I mean the way in which that application structures and represents (1) data about a user (personal info, contact lists) and (2) her digital creations (writing, pictures etc. etc.). In fact, these two categories can effectively be subsumed into "everything attributable to the user within the application".

I wrote about this topic with regard to the way in which blog tools "hardwire" blog content as either "posts" or "comments", and so effectively lock that content into the blog tool providers' data-silos:



The kind of exchange you and I are attempting here bears witness to the clunkiness of distributed conversations using comments!

Incidentally, I'm exploring all this stuff in more depth over at my blog in a (draft of a) paper on "Exploring apparent polarities in the digital identity space". See particularly the "Fluid vs. structured community?" section:


Constructive criticism is very welcome.

Finally, Microsoft's Kim Cameron's blog is a good source of ideas and info on the digital identity meta-network:


Hope all that helps!


I'm going to look through the links you sent. Thanks!

George W.


Although I am tempted to write more, I'm just going to make one comment, and I hope that you will take it in the spirit that it is given.

You argue that
“Instead of engaged debates, instead of contestations employing common terms, points of reference or demarcated frontiers, we confront a multiplication of resistances and assertions so extensive that it hinders the formation of strong counterhegemonies.”

I agree with the above, but then what does that mean for your own efforts as a blogger, that is an active part of this process? I don’t mean to rile you, and I know that you are new at this, and perhaps just positing for fun, but you post an average of 1.3 new threads a day, and many of them go unanswered, or lack an effective back and forth. To someone new it may be a bit overwhelming to keep up, as new posts just keep overshadowing the old ones. Does this mean that perhaps starting fewer threads, and those that attract readers of diverse spectrums, and thus allow for longer facilitated discussions, would be more in tune with the earlier logic and make you a better blogger?

(And I'm nessesarily opposing posting a lot and seeing what gets a bite, as that may be more fun, and more in tune with a "snowday" blog.)

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