Friday, February 09, 2007

Within Six Degrees

There is a saying that we are within "six degrees of everyone in the world". At least, that was the saying when I was growing up and we believed there were 4 billion people on the planet - maybe it is seven now!

Anyway, knowing someone, who knows someone else, who knows someone else, etc., etc. seems a little fanciful, doesn't it? Not really...

I found out recently that I am only 3 degrees away from David Kearns - a man whose work I read every week and I have the utmost respect for, though sadly, I have no contact with. Having said ithat, I did sit beside him at lunch one sunny day in 2004 at an Identity Conference in Sydney, Australia!

How did I find this out? http://www.linkedin.com/ that's how!

I know someone, who knows someone else, who knows David. Judging by the number of contacts David has on LinkedIn, I might be only four degrees away from everyone on the planet.

Anyway, http://www.linkedin.com/ is quite a powerful tool in that only people I truly respect and trust are listed as my contacts. I'm quite sure this is true of most people who use http://www.linkedin.com/. Why is this relevant? Well, the ability to verify who you are isn't just a matter of producing a passport, or entering a UserID/Password into a keyboard, or typing a PIN into a "hole in the wall", or using any of the myriad of authentication devices available today. In the old days, verifying your identity could have been as simple as having someone else "vouch" for you.

This still occurs today to some degree - joining some exclusive clubs is more a matter of who you know rather than who you are or what you know! Password resets could potentially be performed in the work-place not by the forgetful employee herself, but by her colleague who is already trusted (although ideally, two colleagues).

Can we computerise the concept of a vouch-for authentication system in the future? Maybe. And maybe, it will be social networks like http://www.linkedin.com/ that will hold the key. After all, I'm not going to let any Tom, Dick or Harry be listed as a contact against my name! My identity is too precious to have it be let down by some unsavoury type!

BTW... If you are desperately interested, my LinkedIn profile can be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/stephenswann.
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