In our “simple” computer science world, every person would be assigned a “single” ID. In reality, this quickly breaks down because users want to separate their personal and work life. In addition, some people compartmentalize their life further. One compartment might be the way most people know them, but another compartment might be for having affairs, or criminal activity, or dissident behavior. A celebrity might have a compartment for their “regular self,” similar to the Superman character’s “Clark Kent” compartment.
Email addresses turn out to be an amazingly good way for users to create a virtual identify that maps to each compartment in their life. In a large % of cases, users try to avoid linking these different identities. One common technique is to use different webmail providers for different email address, because they are so visually different that it reduces the chances that the user might accidentally perform an action in the wrong account.
So most websites don’t map user accounts to humans, they map them to email addresses, and only the actual human person knows all of their different compartments, along with the email address used to identify each of those compartments in the virtual world.
I’ve talked to many people about virtual v. physical identities. What I’ve found from a series of conversations is:
- People who most refrain from activity on social networks (particularly Twitter and Facebook) don’t see or are not inclined to realize the opportunity to separate the two types of identities, or maybe don’t know how.
- “Growing up with the Internet” means adapting to different audience types and different kinds of interactivity. As a teenager, my virtual and physical identities were the same, but as the Web changed and grew, I learned through careful observance who I should and shouldn’t be online.
I’m fascinated by the (simple) concept that an interface layout can help reassure an identity– PROJECT!