In my last post I described the issue of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a medical condition previously known as “Multiple Personality Disorder”, as applied to our virtual reality conditions. While the real life condition is a serious matter, some symptoms of DID occasionally occur in avatars. Or at least in people trying to operate with multiple identities, since many people choose to create avatars with identities completely separate from their real life identity. We examined four identity strategies followed by most people:
- Unique Identities: create a truly unique identity for each environment, in addition to your “real” identity. In practice this approach is unworkable unless you belong to only very few services.
- Unified Identity: extend your real life identity across all the services you use as much as possible. Again, in practice this is difficult to achieve due to naming conventions and the need to be something other than your real identity in certain services.
- Blended Identities: create multiple identities, but have no barriers between them. Your real life is not explicitly separate from your virtual identity.
- Consistent Identities: create a small set of distinct identities and isolate them from each other. Use one of the identities to register with different services.
To use the Consistent Identity strategy, you probably have to do these things:
- Create an identity, perhaps with a unique personality. It will have a name and an attitude. Register this identity in the virtual world.
- Register the same name consistently on any additional Web2.0 social networking services you care to use, or rather the ones that specific identity cares to use. Sometimes this can be difficult, as we shall see.
- Take great care to isolate the identities from each other. This means any linkage between services is done consistently with the identity. For example, if a service requires an email address, use the email associated with that identity, not your personal or work email address.
- Swap identities when you wish to assume the personality of your other identity. This part is the most difficult.
I postulated that many people choose the Consistent Identities strategy, so let’s examine the issues that can arise if you use that strategy and how you might be able to overcome some of them.
- Naming Conventions: Some services have restrictions on the form of the registration ID, and you might not be able to get the precise identity you want. So instead of “Is Full Of Crap”, you might just get “Crap”. Nevertheless, if you choose a similar name, a portion of your name or even a variation, your friends will likely find you.
- Naming Collisions: You register with the new online service, only to discover that someone else has already taken your favorite name! Your friends may be confused as to who which one of you is the “real” you. Two approaches may resolve this. First, register early to any service you suspect you might use in the future. Register even if you don’t intend on using the service, just in case. Often services are free, so why not? A second approach is to have a very unique name that is unlikely to be used by anyone else. “Robert” is probably going to be gone long before you show up, but “Moggs” might not. However, if your name is famed it might be gobbled up by squatters.
- Service Overload: Not only must you register your identity with multiple services, you sometimes have to register your multiple identities with multiple services. Naturally, this is continually confusing: “which ID should I sign on to which service?” is asked constantly. This gets even more confusing when you try to simplify your services, as most web aggregation services (e.g. FriendFeed, etc.) mistakenly assume that you have only a single identity. Of course, you don’t, and end up having multiple aggregators – but then they aren’t really aggregating for you, are they?
- Cross Talk: While the other issues are most often annoyances, cross talk can cause serious problems. Consider the case where your identities have vastly different personalities and conflicting activities, and you accidentally use the wrong id for your email or IM service. Bad. Possibly Very Bad. How to avoid this? There’s no easy way, I am afraid. You simply must be very careful. Always check before you email, IM, comment, Plurk or tweet. Take a second before you push that button, and you just might save your life.
In spite of these issues, Consistent identity could be the way to go for most people. But be warned, it’s not an easy life. Or two. Or three.