claimID: Managing Your Identity Online

Posted on Wed 24 May 2006 in Dispatches • 6 min read

How many times have you googled yourself? Too embarrassed to say? Same here.

I suppose just about everyone with a connection to the Internet has been guilty of a little ego-surfing once in a while. Over the course of your searching, more than likely you have found sites that either contain somewhat embarrassing information about yourself, falsehoods, or contain a ton of information about someone else who shares the same name as you. The latter is not as common in my case, although you would be surprised at the number of Andrliks out there. Besides the obvious fun that can be had at your expense by your friends looking at the search results for your name and say, donkeys, what’s the big deal?

Well for starters, more and more employers are using the almighty search powers of Google during the application review process. Also, more and more well-connected folks will spend some time doing searches on their prospective dates, just to verify that they didn’t just agree to a dinner with a potential psycho. Perhaps that online racist blogger or recently convicted sex offender that shares your name would be a bad page for them to find and associate with you. Or any number of other unfortunate number of sites they could mistake as related to you. You obviously cannot stop search engines from bringing up that data, or even people from impersonating you online, so how do you minimize the damage?

This is where claimID comes in. claimID is a service that allows you to claim the pages links that actually are related to you and contextualize them. Essentially, you post to your account (usually via a convenient bookmarklet) any pages you find that actually refer to you and categorize them in order to create a “resume” of links representing your online identity. You can specify whether the information on the site is written by you or someone else, whether it is about you or something else that you were connected to, or define your own custom relationship either in plain text or using the rel tag, just like in the XFN. You can also enter the year the page was written or at the events it refers to occurred, as well as a full text description if you feel so inclined.

For example:

This is the web-based database application I designed at my last consulting job.

Or:

Yes, this is a picture of me in full goth regalia, but I was only 17 at the time and going through a phase.

Another option is to create a category for links that are definitely not you, such as the more horrific possibilities suggested above, or if there is someone actively impersonating you online, like the moron posing as Leo Laporte on MySpace even though he was outed several months ago on This Week In Tech.

Admittedly, someone like myself could just create and maintain a page like that on my own site, but not everyone has their own domain, even though they might have a significant presence online via social networking sites like MySpace, LiveJournal, Last.fm, or other sites. For those types of users, a service like claimID can be invaluable as a resource, as our digital and analog lives continue to converge. In fact, I would argue that this type of service has a great deal of value for those of us who do have our own sites, as claimID provides a way to standardize the data. Just include a link on your site, homepage in another networking site, or even on your resume to your claimID user page in order to provide readers with a sort of executive summary of your online identity. Also, by linking to your user page, and by using your legal name for your claimID username you will increase the search rankings of your “link resume” which helps get people to your page faster.

The service is in closed beta right now while they test their ability to scale, but you can request an invitation be sent to you in order to be placed on the waiting list. While the developers pledge that their will always be a free account option, upon the full release upgraded accounts will be available for $5 a year. Currently it is not clear what the difference between the two accounts will be, however users who participate in the beta test will receive a free upgraded membership as a thank you for their help in feedback, which is nice.

The service supports the now standard Web 2.0 fare, including tagging of entries and RSS syndication for your links page. In addition it also automatically calculates and supports MicroIDs, which is a standards-based identifier whose age is measured in months. Keeping up with the buzz, the site was developed in about five months using Ruby on Rails, the new development framework that is causing much hoopla in programming circles.

Okay, I’ve talked about a lot of the good things, but there are some inherent problems at this stage. To begin with, and this is the big question, is any of this any use without identity verification? The developers state in their FAQ that they do not intend the service to validate identity, but rather to be part of the network of your online identity, a “web of trust” if you will, that will validate itself by context. It isn’t meant to be definitive, with the exception of when you personally provide the address to your link page, but rather a stop along the way during a reader’s search. This calls into question the effectiveness of authoritatively claiming your links, unless you link to it directly from your own clearly validated domain. The support of microformats helps in this regard, but MicroIDs, while opaque, are transmitted as a meta tag in your page header, which means that they can be spoofed, so while they help you assert your identity, they don’t necessary prevent any impersonation. Whether the combination of referrals and MicroIDs will ultimately provide a satisfactory method of personal validation will only be answered as we see the service in practice. I see great potential for malicious spammers here if the claimID folks are not exceptionally diligent.

In addition, some of the features seem to be unnecessary. For example, I’m not sure why anyone would want to use RSS syndication for their links, unless they felt like stalking another claimID user. That being said, I felt much the same way about del.icio.us feeds until I underwent my true social networking conversion a few months ago. Now I track several del.icio.us feeds along with all my blog subscriptions.

Tagging is another example of a feature I’m not sure about here. If the user is already being expected to group their links into categories, why add the additional complication of assigning tags to the entries? Possibly this is linked with a future feature to come, but it seems like Web 2.0 overkill. I know users have grown accustomed to having this feature, but is it really useful? How many links will the average user actually accumulate? Online celebrities could definitely have use for this additional layer of specification, and perhaps as more and more of our lives move onto the Internet this will become a really useful feature for everyone. Maybe this is a really forward-thinking addition to the service, but only time will tell.

Regardless, I see a lot of potential in this service, and I will be very interested to see how it develops.

claimID Site

My claimID Page

Inside The Net Interview with the developers, which contains a no-invitation registration link to get an instant account.