Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube- the list of social networks in use today goes on and on. Each allows users to establish a long-term identity that grows and evolves over time. We have become used to having this "social identity" available on the web, through which we can connect as friends, colleagues and constituents as well as customers and brands. Each profile requires us to create a unique user name and password so that it can't be accessed by others and our identities and information are protected.
However, this is not exclusive to social media sites. Virtually every website you visit today will ask you for a username or login details in order to gain full access. Shopping, media, banking and government services all require the user to have a unique username and password. This has gotten to the stage where individuals engage with so many entities online that it has become extremely difficult to remember each and every combination, particularly when a website may be visited infrequently.
The "I forgot my password" button has become, for many, part and parcel of the process of visiting web sites - making the experience clunky and difficult. Worse, studies show that the average 25-34 year old has 40 online accounts, but no one can remember 40 random passwords so users end up using the same password for many sites. The security issues here are obvious. But there is another way...
Rather than every site requiring a new username and password, a better approach for the user would be to use one, standardised identity to engage with sites and services quickly and easily. As the likes of Facebook and Twitter increasingly become centralised hubs for activity in today's digital world, there is an opportunity for them to become the de facto identity providers for frictionless online engagement. As they grow, (Twitter added 83 million members over the last six months), they will almost certainly become entrenched as a basis for engaging with online stores and government services.
The era of social identity is coming
By recognising social identity as a way of accessing services, there are a number of benefits to the individual as well as businesses and governments.
Using a social identity to access web sites, life could be made easier for individuals. They could browse the internet, purchasing goods and using services very quickly without having to find passwords, or request resets constantly. In return, business and government processes would be simplified. Individuals are far more likely to check in online to do their tax return for example, if it is a simple process of utilising their existing social identity, rather than having to find where they stored the password set up the previous year. Businesses will be better able to offer targeted marketing and advertising, based on actual interests rather than the existing hit and miss offerings. Unsurprisingly, retailers are leading the field in this regard; with Gartner predicting that by 2015 half of retail customer log-ins will be made via social networks .
While there might be concerns over the use of what is personal, the use of social identity to access many web sites has potentially significant benefits - for both the user and business. With a standardised system of social identity, individuals would be able to far more easily access business and government sites, and have a far more personalized and unique experience in the process.
In the end, a population which uses social media as a standard form of communication will increasingly define itself in terms of social identity, and will expect the businesses and government agencies who serve them to follow suit. The era of social identity is coming. Are you ready?
Follow Geoff Webb on Twitter: www.twitter.com/geoffvwebb