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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Saturday, May 25, 2024

Virtual Identity Cards – Metaphorically Speaking

Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
2:22 am

Metaphor: “A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.”

A couple of months ago, I was invited to attend a meeting of the Identity Gang during the Burton Group Catalyst Conference. We had quite a heated discussion, without resolution, of what metaphor should be used to represent a digital identity. I argued on behalf of “iCards,” reasoning that we humans intuitively understand the concept of using cards to represent bits of our personal Identities.

Well, I bought a virtual identity card last week, actually a “Prepaid Card Account,” from AT&T Knowlege Ventures. I wasn’t issued a piece of plastic that I could put in my wallet – just a “prepaid card number” that I could subsequently use to pay for WiFi sessions at the Denver International Airport or other places that accepted that form of Identity. That is about as “virtual” as you can get.

That got me to thinking more about the value of using a “Virtual Identity Card” as a metaphor for Identity. I have 11 different Identity cards in my physical wallet – 2 credit cards, 1 debit card, 1 drivers license, 2 grocery store affinity cards, 1 auto club card, 1 insurance card, 1 shopping club card, 1 hotel key card and 1 business card. I use these in different contexts to represent my Identity. By presenting these cards for the intended purposes, I establish my Identity and receive services in return – all the way from purchasing something to opening my hotel room door.

It is interesting to note that all but my business card has an encoded magnetic stripe attached for ease in reading my Identity. In reality, it is not the card that is important, it is the virtual representation of my Identity stored in some computer system that counts. It isn’t much of a stretch to think of all digital Identities as Virtual Identity Cards – virtual in the sense that I can’t hold them in my hand, but just as real as the cards in my wallet.

Well, some might say, “You’re an old fogey. The new generation doesn’t need a metaphor to describe digital Identities. They are so familiar with online adventures and Myspace.com that ‘cards’ cease to have meaning.”

My 17 year-old son and 12 year-old daughter apparently think otherwise. Drivers licenses (real and yearned for), student ID cards, library cards, gift cards, iTunes cards — Identity cards are very much a part of their everyday lives and wallets.

So, I think that a “Virtual Identity Card” is a useful metaphor to describe a digital identity. It is certainly as useful as the pervasive “desktop” and “folder” metaphors we use in user interface vernacular. Whether or not you favor the Microsoft CardSpace implementation of Virtual Identity Cards or not, I think you must admit the Redmond folks chose a useful metaphor.

By the way, I just learned of a virtual identity card to protect children from pedophiles that went on sale a few days ago. Useful? I certainly hope so.

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