The Social Ledger and Identity (Part 1DRAFT)

Written by Joachim Stroh and Jim Whitescarver

We've been exploring the relationship between Identity and the Social Ledger at the Collective and want to share some of our thinking here. We believe, the traditional concept of identity as a permanent marker (e.g. capturing personal identifying information, such as a name/SSN or ancillary information, such as biometrics) is no longer sufficient and will give way to a much richer information object. To get a sense where we want to take this concept, watch this video by Maria Takeuchi and picture each of the nodes and connections representing an activity or relationship - taken together they shape who you really are.

Identity is a prerequisite for the Social Ledger but in a sense the Social Ledger, in its various forms, is your identity. How we do privacy by default within activities, teams, clubs, families, domains and organizations each serving as a self sovereign identity agent is a primary challenge here. In webs of trust we build strong trusted identity so that we won't get lost in the crowd and recognize each other from the sound of our voices (nb Cluetrain Manifesto).

The fabric of the Social Ledger is where our social structure and group memory arises and where our cooperative activities are anchored and recorded. It's where our shared stories are unfolding and are enfolded in a permanent historical ledger, just like the stories of financial ledgers of the past that can reveal so much about the people and transactions of that time. Maybe you are working on a similar vision - our challenge is to incorporate and build on top of each other, evolving organically in the process.

The broad view of identity includes how we are perceived, how we represent ourselves and how we perceive ourselves. We aim to discover the natural nature of identity rather than one limited by human design. What is remembered embodies how we are perceived. Identity management is engineering how we represent ourselves by exposing personal information.

The Social Ledger stores "social objects" that are the attractors of the stories we create, the building blocks that make up (enfold, nb David Bohm) our stories and propel us forward. In a sense, the social object is a "social mirror" in which we see ourselves; the reflections (how we interpret the object) tells us more about who we are then the "managed" data points about us (our personal identifiers, our skewed resumes, our over-achievements, etc).

In this view, the history of a social object, its meta-data and its interactions with and around the object must be preserved. But it cannot be preserved in local or siloed databases - we must look beyond this limit and share our knowledge on a much grander scale: to store these ojbects in a distributed global ledger. Only this way can parties from any place "join the family" and be able to exchange knowledge fluently, as if we were suddenly able to speak the same language, globally.

What we say and do is by nature personal. How that is exposed in the Social Ledger ought to remain under our control with purposeful transparency only by our consent. The new identity emerging offers the promise of being self-sovereign. Jung's notion of “You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” underlines an identity that is based on the traces you leave behind in your actions. Our ledgers of what we say and do necessarily connect where we do things together. The Social Ledger connects social objects to the tools and activities which they affect.

On a more technical level, the metadata of a social object is its public identity that represents a DID, a globally distributed identity. It should include its global name and service discovery for what can be done with it. It defines the behavior of the social object in the spirit of "you are what you do". Later it may be inherited from personal and team object capabilities for what you can make the object do.
Social object capabilities (metadata) are mutable and reflect the current state of the object.

The next part of this series will explore the mirroring capacity in more detail, both from philosophical and on a technical perspective. The series will conclude with a conceptual architecture overview of the distributed Social Ledger. Stay tuned.

Part 2 - Social Objects as mirrors of ourselves
Part 3 - The architecture of a distributed Social Ledger


Veteran technologist and group system researcher facilitating the development of decentralized communities and blockchain innovation.