Sunday, June 25, 2006

Identity mashup conference: an assessment

So a couple of final comments about the conference. I expected before I went that I would find it interesting, but I wasn't sure it would be particularly relevant. I think in hindsight it was both interesting and relevant, in part because of the following.

People you don't know usually can teach you more things you don't know than people you already know. Mark Granovetter pointed this out back in 1973 through his insights about the strength of weak ties, but it always goes against my introvert's grain, and I have to be reminded of it. I got to Cambridge, listened to a lot of smart people talk about things I didn't really know anything about, and although I didn't learn anywhere enough to be able to hang in many of the conversations, I got a good feel for the disciplines and the fields of inquiry people were drawing on to sort out the issues in the identity space, and got a couple of insights that I think will be key to figuring out how I can frame our thinking around identify, reputation, and community on GlobalGiving.

I was also struck--really struck--by the fact that to a person, attendees of this conference believed (and acted on the belief) that technology is not a constraint. And I mean that in 2 ways. One, that technology can pretty much solve any technical problem anyone could have. Two, that technology solutions can be implemented by anybody--by this I mean that even if the whole solution requires an interaction between people and a technology, the behavioral changes that need to accompany the technology will pretty much happen. I can see how this could happen if the problem being addressed is really really huge--and a lot of the things being discussed at the conference were, in my view, really really huge--but I wasn't sure if anyone outside of the conference would share that view. On the one hand, the optimism about technology was really freeing. But on the other hand, it felt removed from reality.

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