The possibilities of digital identity management have become more and more sophisticated over the years. 20 years ago there was little more space for defining identity than a username and a biography (at least to the mainstream user), social media services nowadays offer functions to communicate that we like/read/listen/watch a great variety of digital content. Profiles have become ever more sophisticated allowing us to create a limitless multimedia timeline of our own lives.
But what really identifies us is the relationship to our connections? In social network services it is possible to encounter twelve people with the same name and still identify your old friend from high school based on her connections. Maybe Facebook was one of the first services that understood and implemented this paradigm. Since the beginning they are encouraging their users to embrace their real-life identities.
Relationships in Facebook are “Friendships” and this is a limitation in the complexity of our relationships. If our identities are partly defined by our relationship to others, the friendship-relationship model is not able to persist as the need for more detailed identification in online communication grows.
Google+ has introduced the circles to facilitate the way we can establish different relationship forms with our social contacts. This approach is more advanced and by design easier to adopt than the lists feature in Facebook for instance. More complex mechanisms of relationship management have been evolving on many social network sites.
If we assume that digital identity has the need to become as complex as “real life” identity than one might ask: who is ever going to be able to manage all this complexity? When I unfriend someone in real life I simply do nothing, in Facebook I need 5 clicks. The shear amount of everyday decisions that shape our offline social networks is unlikely to be translated to clicks.
The question that comes into my mind is:
Isn’t the automation of these decision, through the help of algorithms, the only way to manage relationship complexities online? Is Facebook or Google going to predict my relationship to a certain person automatically so I do not have to drag’n’drop this person into a circle anymore?