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The Identity Scorecard


The Identity Scorecard

Identity word
Identity word

"One of the things I love most about web standards is there are so many to choose from!"

The ironically witty statement above was uttered by my friend, David Crow, on IRC in 2006. Seven years later, it's pretty much the same. Every major company pushing their own standards and pretty much every one of them handling the user experience of it all terribly. Here is why I hate the way almost every web company handles my online identity.


I know that most of your users have one account and most of them use you on their mobile phone, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who hates the way you handle identity. Here are my beefs with you:

  1. Why can't I handle multiple accounts through your web interface? You've done a pretty great job of this in your iPhone app. Why can't you do this online? And yes, if I keep Hootsuite or Tweetdeck open all of the time, I could handle multiple identities on my laptop, but give me the option to just go to There is more I can do with my accounts there.
  2. Why can't I register multiple accounts under one email address? I get the phone number thing because you have an SMS interface, but every time I set up a new Twitter account, I need to set up a new email address.


Google (everything - YouTube, G+, Apps, etc)

You are the master of multiple identities...only...your default is to assume all of your users are as adept at switching identities as a super spy. I now have way too many identities on Google and because most of them are the result of me needing to set up a new email address for a twitter account, most of them are worth less than others. Here are my beefs with you:

  1. I pay for Google Apps for now, but you restrict my social use on that email address so I need to switch back and forth (as the sole user and administrator, figuring out how to get Google+ to work on has been a nightmare - it keeps telling me to ask my administrator, which is me, but when I click the admin tools, I can't figure out for the life of me how to turn G+ on! And no, your damned forums don't help.)
  2. You allow for forwarding and aligning those disparate identities, but my Google ID looks like a spider web of forwarding to the point that I can't even remember what is going where and coming from what.
  3. I now have something like 6 YouTube accounts, 5 Google+ accounts and Docs and calendars littered in about a dozen places. These are the things I want to have 'forwarded' and aligned. But it's way too complicated to do so.
  4. The amount of important information that has come through those email addresses over the years (some have been attached to online banking, some Paypal, receipts for business expenses, etc) makes it really hard just to close down these accounts.
  5. Some clients and employers have used Google Apps as an organization, which makes my Google life even more confusing. I've had my browser split into 6 identities at one time! And under each one, there were multiple Google logins. It took my brain weeks to realign.

Let me give you a hint, Google: you don't need to cover every single identity angle every time. Just make it simple.



Okay, so you are the best of breed when it comes to a logical way of handling my identity. I have to give you kudos for recognizing that people are behind companies, but people use your products first. So I default to being myself until I choose to operate as an agent of one of my pages. And I can carry that logic pretty much everywhere Facebook connect is involved. It's pretty sweet, actually. I'm me until I want to masquerade as something else. There are a few hiccups, but I get that you don't want people to impersonate other people, so that's fine.

The only thing I would say is that Facebook is Facebook and not the whole entire internet. And I like you being Facebook and not the whole entire internet. So let me have some private time with my 'not on Facebook' me. Stop stalking me. K?


Instagram, Pinterest and Everyone Else

Oh right. You don't do multiple identity. You DO realize there are brands and people behind those brands who have their own accounts on your platforms, right? I hope you are taking notes.


Notes from an International Perspective

For anyone who has ever lived in different countries or worked across borders, identity is a mess between countries. I set up most of my original accounts in the US and when I moved back to Canada, things went awry. My Apple ID is still a hot mess. Google had no idea what to do with me. Paypal has gone off the rails. I said goodbye to a paid up Pandora with stations I had carefully curated for years and years. I can't even access some websites. Many retailers are dead to me now.

I understand that different countries have different regulations and restrictions. It's still the oddest thing that a package that weighs less than 0.5 lbs is free to ship to Boston, but $24.95 to ship to Montreal (3 hours away). It's like I live on a different planet now.

Identity IRL

IRL, I'm me and that is the most important identity of all, but I'm also an employee, a consultant, a partner, a mother, a customer, a dog owner, a renter, a traveler, a driver, a Canadian citizen, a tax payer, a patient, a voter...the list goes on. Many of these roles I play require an identity card or paperwork of some sort, but they never make me choose or stop me from being one or the other. They don't try to merge consultant me and dog owner me. Even the government lets me be an individual when not dealing with their laws.

Years ago, people talked about creating a one-card offline: merging passport, birth certificate, credit cards, point cards, hospital cards, etc. Sure, it would be convenient, but nobody wanted it. There is a balance of 'remember who I am to make my life easier' and 'I need some anonymity and the ability to play different roles at different points.' This is something internet companies don't really understand or respect. Not everything I do online says something about who I am - sometimes I'm shopping for a present for a friend or looking up articles for client research. If you are going to get really smart about identity, you'll treat me a little more like a person with varying degrees of identities with one stronger than the others (the personal one).

I guess my point is that when designing identity, you should design for the human first and the role-player second. But the human part matters.