Identity graphs as a ‘source of truth’

Week 4 on Identity in Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC has come to an end. It was another very interesting week. Stephen has summed up the week with a video and a paper, both of which I will link to in this post. They deserve to be widely distributed.

Whilst the topic title for Week 4 was ‘Identity’, and we had some discussion about identity in general as a philosophical idea that ‘runs through the history of education in a single thread’, the week mainly focussed on digital identity, which Stephen clearly said is not the same as ‘my identity’.

I was pleased to hear him say this, as throughout the week I consistently felt that our digital identity is nowhere near the whole picture of who we are. As Stephen says it is just one outcome of ‘myself’, through which I can recognise parts of myself and others can get glimpses of me, or if they know me can recognise a bit more.

I subscribe to National Geographic and this week I received a mailing from them which included this stunning photo by Yuri Andries.

But it was the text underneath that caught my attention. ‘…. the photo was taken in Ladakh, a remote alpine region of northern India where Tibetan Buddhists, Shia Muslims, Sunnis, and Christians live in villages connected by rocky roads. There’s no phone signal, Internet, or gas stations, and hardly a single person in sight.’ So no digital identity for anyone living there, but of course that doesn’t mean no identity.

I was struck by this because also this week I have been trying to understand what Stephen means by the ‘source of truth’ for the identity graphs we have created. How do we know the graph is an accurate representation of who we are? Where does the information come from? In his video Stephen says ‘we are the source of truth for our digital identity’; we are the thread that runs through the disconnected and distributed data that makes up our digital identity graph. Instead of our digital identities being about quantified demographics, they will (in E-Learning 3.0) be about quality, about the rich tapestry of data relations we have.

In case your were wondering, there is a link in my thinking between the people living in Ladakh with no digital identity, the many of us who do have a digital identity of one sort or another, and the idea of a source of truth, because it occurred to me that the truth about identity has to also include what is neglected, hidden or invisible. The emergent identity from the graph must surely be as much about what is not there as what is there.

As I was thinking about this Vahid Masrour published a post in which he writes about how he discusses online identity with this students. He urges his students to consider how their digital identity might be interpreted by future employers. This highlighted for me the idea that we have to manage our identities, deciding what to reveal and what to hide.

Stephen has said that identity in E-learning 1.0 and 2.0 was about the ‘quantified self’ where our digital identities were represented by demographics and numbers. E-Learning 3.0 will see us shift towards digital identities which reflect the qualified self and ultimately the connected self.

For the connected self, being represented by numbers (the quantified self of E-Learning 1.0) and facts (the qualified self of E-Learning 2.0) will not be sufficient. The connected self will be more about our relations and interactions. Will this lead to a more ethical Web? Will digital identity as a ‘connected self make the ‘source of truth’ of these identities more visible? Will the ‘connected self’ be more reflective? Will ‘the connective self’ more honestly reflect our hopes, aspirations and dreams?

Much of what is being discussed in this course is new to me and that includes the idea of identity graphs and the qualified and connected self. Stephen has clearly been thinking about this for some time. For further insights into his thinking I can recommend watching the video embedded above and reading this paper, which he shared as a summary of the week.

E-Learning 3.0, Part 4: Identity –

Further resources

Digital Identity on the Threshold of a Digital Identity Revolution –

The Economic Impact of Digital Identity in Canada –

Canada’s Digital Economy Relies on a Foundation of Digital Identity –

Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education

See also the resources listed on the course site:

The Quantified, Qualified and Connected Self

This week the topic on the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC has been Identity. We have tried to answer questions such as:

  • How do we know who someone is?
  • How do we project ourselves on the internet?
  • How can we be safe and secure?

To answer these questions we have discussed what identity means, digital and otherwise, we have created identity graphs (there are some great examples, see the end of this post) and Stephen Downes, convener of this MOOC, has introduced us to the idea of encryption keys.

For me there remains a topic which perhaps needs further discussion, and that is, what do we mean by quantified self, qualified self and connected self, what is the difference between them and why do we need to know?

Stephen has written:

We were the client, we were the product – are we, at last, the content? We are the thread that runs through an otherwise disconnected set of data, and knowledge about ourselves, our associations, and our community will create an underlying fabric against which the value and relevance of everything else will be measured. Instead of demographics being about quantity (sales charts, votes in elections and polls, membership in community) we will now have access to a rich tapestry of data and relations.

If this becomes the case, then we will have an unparalleled opportunity to become more self-reflective, both as individuals and as a community. The “quantified self” will give way to the “qualified self” and ultimately to the “connected self” as we begin to define ourselves not merely by simple measures of ethnicity, language, religion and culture, but through thousands of shared experiences, affinities, and inclinations. Evidence for this trend already exists and can be found through the exploration of expression of communities and culture online.

I am familiar with the idea of the Quantified Self. I’m aware that I could track and measure a lot of what I do if I so wished; my calorie intake, how much I sleep, how many steps a day I take, my heart rate etc. etc.  In the past, I have done a little of this. I did once own a Fitbit and I do have a Strava account, but my interest in them waned very quickly, and I now don’t use either. I find I don’t need a machine to tell me when I am eating badly or am not fit enough – I know. And I don’t want to think of my body, or myself, as a machine. I was dismayed when searching for information on the Quantified Self to find reference to the Quantified Baby. I would suggest there’s a limit to how much we should be measuring human beings. And that goes for activity on social media too. I have observed people on social media who admit to measuring themselves by the number of followers / friends etc. they can display on their sites. Like Geoff Cain (see his tweet below), I am happier with two or three in depth interactions and I am even happier if these happen in private rather than public.

geoffcain @geoffcain Analytics does not mean very much in the end. I have been happier lately with the two or three in depth interactions I have had with people online than I have with months of high traffic “hits.” #el30 #highered #edtech

So I am not a fan of the Quantified Self, for myself, although that’s not to deny its uses, in terms of health and well-being.

The Qualified Self sounds like a move in the right direction, but what does it mean? According to one recently published author, it means a more ‘well-rounded’ self ( see Humphreys, L. 2018. The Qualified Self. Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life, MIT Press, )

I haven’t read the book but José van Dijck, Distinguished University Professor, Utrecht University; author of Mediated Memories in the Digital Age and The Culture of Connectivity, has endorsed the book as follows:

The Qualified Self offers a new perspective on how social media users construct and distribute ‘self-portraits’ through media technologies. Lee Humphreys has delivered a truly original revision of ‘mediated memories’ and a much-needed update to the age of connectivity.

Lee Humphreys, from the reviews I have read, believes that online sharing of the minutiae of our daily lives, ‘selfies’ and so on, is not narcissistic, but simply a continuation of an age old tradition of diary writing and similar activities. As I say, I haven’t read the book, but I would want evidence that the sharing of the ‘diary writing’ is not for the purpose of collecting more followers and more clicks, if we are to believe in a fully Qualified Self. Of course the Qualified and Quantified selves could presumably exist alongside each other.

Stephen has suggested that our identity graphs will provide the rich data of tapestry and relations which will give us the opportunity to become more self-reflective, both as individuals and as a community and shift from the Quantified Self to the Qualified Self. This is not statistical data. It is data reflecting self-knowledge.

It has been hard to find anything very much online about the Qualified Self, but there is a good post written in 2014 by Mark Carrigan, which seems to align with Stephen’s and Lee Humphrey’s writing. In this post, Mark writes:

….. I’m suggesting qualitative self-tracking can be thought of as a distinct type of practice.

…. My point at the time was that the ethos of self-knowledge through numbers does very little for me personally. But I’m intellectually drawn to the Quantified Self because it’s a fascinating example of the intensification of reflexivity in contemporary society. (Mark has written Quantified Self in this final sentence, but I think it’s a typo and he means Qualified Self. That would make more sense in the context of his writing)

And then he goes on to attempt to define the Qualified Self,

Here’s an attempt at a definition of qualitative self-tracking: using mobile technology to recurrently record qualities of experience or environment, as well as reflections upon them, with the intention of archiving aspects of personal life that would otherwise be lost, in a way susceptible to future review and revision of concerns, commitments and practices in light of such a review. So obviously things like personal journals would fall into this category.

From this, the Qualified Self is more reflective and less concerned with measurement and numbers.

That leaves the Connected Self. I’m assuming this means being connected to our inner selves and our own ‘Being’, which would be a progression from the Qualified Self, but would also mean being connected to the selves of ‘Others’. The Connected Self would be a more ‘embodied’ self, which understands itself in terms of relations and ‘betweenness’. ‘Betweenness’ is a topic I was exploring before starting this MOOC. On reflection I think it is relevant to both the Qualified Self and the Connected Self.

I have not found it easy to unpick what Qualified Self and Connected Self mean. If you are reading this post, perhaps you have some thoughts / alternative perspectives you would be willing to share?

Source of imageHarvard Business Review

Participants’ Identity Graphs

Matthias Melcher –

Roland Legrand –

Kevin Hodgson –

Geoff Cain –

Frank Polster –

Laura Ritchie – 

Ioannou Karvelas –

Vahid Masrour – 

Keith Hamon –

Dorian –

Random Access –

Gerald Ardito –  

Lou – 

Identity from the perspective of authentication

In this video Stephen Downes, convener of the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC explains that in the future our safety and security online will be managed through the use of identification keys. We will each have a private key and a public key, which we will plug into our computers instead of signing on with a password.

Source of  image –

In the future everyone will be logging in like this and passwords will become a thing of the past.

Why do we need two keys? This is to ensure maximum security and encryption.  The two keys act like a two-way security system. We can think of our private key as our ‘key’ and our public key as the ‘lock’, i.e. the one won’t work without the other. You can only get through the door if you have the right key and the right lock.

So, an example found on Quora  explains how you can use private and public keys to send and receive encrypted messages like this:

Robert wants to send Katie a file. Robert would request Katie’s public key to encrypt the file and then encrypt it with her public key. Robert would then send the file to Katie. Katie would then decrypt the file with her private key.

In this way, Katie’s public key is only used to encrypt but can never be used to decrypt, keeping the data safe. And Katie can only decrypt the data with her private key and would never exposes her private key to anyone, keeping her private key safe. (Source:

Stephen in his video (starting at about 7.00 minutes in) explains this in more detail and makes it very clear that a signature on the sent encrypted message would be needed to make it absolutely secure, otherwise you couldn’t be sure who had the public key. The point is to be able to prove who you say you are and keep your communications online safe, without the use of passwords. Your digital identity (based on your identity graph/s) becomes your public key, which is unique to you, and your private key keeps you safe.

Stephen believes that in ten years’ time this is how we will all be accessing the internet. I wonder how straightforward this will be for the average user. I will be in my 80s in 10 years’ time. Will this make it easier for me and people like me, or, as Stephen asks elsewhere on the E-Learning 3.0 course site,

“Will we be lost in the sea of possibilities, unable to navigate through the complexities of defining for ourselves who we are, or will we be able to forge new connections, creating a community of interwoven communities online and in our homes?”

Hopefully there will be more courses like this one which will help us to keep abreast of developments and where we are headed.

This is only a brief summary of the key points in Stephen’s video, as I see them. You need to watch the 25 minute video to get a more complete picture.

And have a look at the Resources – provided by Stephen which I have copied below:

Yubico, 2018/11/15

As explained on the Yubico website, “U2F is an open authentication standard that enables internet users to securely access any number of online services with one single security key instantly and with no drivers or client software needed.  FIDO2 is the latest generation of the U2F protocol.”

Public-key cryptography
Wikipedia, 2018/11/15

Public-key cryptography, or asymmetric cryptography, is any cryptographic system that uses pairs of keys: public keys which may be disseminated widely, and private keys which are known only to the owner. This accomplishes two functions: authentication, where the public key verifies that a holder of the paired private key sent the message, and encryption, where only the paired private key holder can decrypt the message encrypted with the public key. – Downes
Stephen DownesKeybase, 2018/11/15

This is my Keybase page. Here’s what Keybase says about itself: “Keybase is a new and free security app for mobile phones and computers. For the geeks among us: it’s open source and powered by public-key cryptography. Keybase is for anyone. Imagine a Slack for the whole world, except end-to-end encrypted across all your devices. Or a Team Dropbox where the server can’t leak your files or be hacked.” See also (very technical) Keybase for Everyone. And Keybase writing to the blockchain.

E-Learning 3.0 : Identity Graphs

We are now in the fourth week of this E-Learning 3.0 open course/MOOC. The task for this week is to create an Identity Graph, which Stephen Downes (convener of this course) has outlined as follows:

Identity – Create an Identity Graph

  • We are expanding on the marketing definition of an identity graph. It can be anything you like, but with one stipulation: your graph should not contain a self-referential node titled ‘me’ or ‘self’ or anything similar
  • Think of this graph as you defining your identity, not what some advertiser, recruiter or other third party might want you to define.
  • Don’t worry about creating the whole identity graph – focusing on a single facet will be sufficient. And don’t post anything you’re not comfortable with sharing. It doesn’t have to be a real identity graph, just an identity graph, however you conceive it.

Here is my graph, which I created using Matthias Melcher’s Think Tool – Thought Condensr, which is very quick and easy to use.

Like Matthias,  I puzzled over why Stephen required that the graph – “should not contain a self-referential node titled ‘me’ or ‘self’ or anything similar”. How could I avoid this if the graph is to be about my identity? In the event, it became obvious that not only is it possible to create the graph without referring to me, but also that doing this clearly demonstrates that knowledge of my identity is in the network rather than any specific node. My identity begins to emerge from the graph, without me having to specify it.

You can see from the graph that there are three links which don’t connect. I did this by simply cutting them off for the screenshot of the graph, because I wanted to suggest that this graph could, in fact, go on and on. This image provides only a glimpse of my identity. I could not only expand the graph, by making more links and connections, but I could also make more connections within this section of the graph. I am also aware that if I started afresh and drew this tomorrow it would be different because my identity and how I think of it is fluid and evolving.

I was also aware in drawing the graph that pretty much all of it is traceable online. It reminded me of the introductory task that was set on Etienne Wenger’s online course  Foundations of Communities of Practice that he ran with John Smith and Bron Stuckey in 2008. The task was based on the idea of six degrees of separation. “Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps” (see Wikipedia). At the start of that course we were given the name of an unknown fellow participant and had to find out enough about them to be able to link to them in six steps and then share this information. This was a very good way of learning more about fellow participants at the start of the course, but also of recognising that we can easily connect to anyone across the world in just a few steps.

Stephen set some further optional questions for us to consider:

  • What is the basis for the links in your graph: are they conceptual, physical, causal, historical, aspirational?

They seem to be physical and historical, whereas Matthias’s graph seems to emphasise the conceptual. 

  • Is your graph unique to you? What would make it unique? What would guarantee uniqueness?

I think it must be unique. The nodes are not unique, but the relations between the nodes, whilst they might not be unique individually, as a whole must be unique. I think it would be impossible to guarantee its uniqueness if it remained static. Anyone could come along and copy or mimic it. Uniqueness can only be guaranteed if the graph is continually updating, evolving and new connections are being made. I am not sure whether old connections can be broken, or do they just become inactive and move way off to the edge of the graph?

  • How (if at all) could your graph be physically instantiated? Is there a way for you to share your graph? To link and/or intermingle your graph with other graphs?

I’m not sure if I have understood the question correctly? Isn’t the graph I have created using Matthias’s Think Tool, and posted here, a physical instantiation? Does physical instantiation have a specific meaning in relation to graphs? I think I might have missed the point – but I can see that it would be relatively easy to intermingle my graph with Matthias’s graph. It might be necessary for us both to add a few nodes and links, but not many, to be able to connect the two graphs fairly seamlessly (a bit like the six degrees of separation task described above).

  • What’s the ‘source of truth’ for your graph?

This is a big question as it raises the whole question of what we mean by truth. I have been grappling with this for quite a few months now. In my most recent blog post about ‘truth’ –  I reported that both Gandhi and Nietzsche have expressed the view that “human beings can only know partial and contingent truths and perspectives; there are a multiplicity of truths and perspectives.” So in these terms, the truth of my graph can only be partial or contingent. Even if I have not knowingly lied, I have selected what to include in the graph and therefore I have also selected what to leave out.

But Stephen’s question is about the ‘source of truth’. Is he asking about ‘source of truth’ as defined in information systems?  This is not a subject I know anything about.

In information systems design and theory, single source of truth (SSOT) is the practice of structuring information models and associated data schema such that every data element is stored exactly once. Any possible linkages to this data element (possibly in other areas of the relational schema or even in distant federated databases) are by reference only. Because all other locations of the data just refer back to the primary “source of truth” location, updates to the data element in the primary location propagate to the entire system without the possibility of a duplicate value somewhere being forgotten.

In these terms I’m not sure how to answer Stephen’s question about ‘source of truth’. If someone could enlighten me that would be great.

Some Thoughts on Identity

The topic for Week 4 of Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC is Identity. The focus of this topic is on digital identity – exploring questions such as:

  • ‘How do we know who someone is?’,
  • ‘How do we project ourselves on the internet?’ and
  • ‘How can we be safe and secure?’

Stephen also writes on the course site:

Our new identities have the potential to be an enormous source of strength or a debilitating weakness. Will we be lost in the sea of possibilities, unable to navigate through the complexities of defining for ourselves who we are, or will we be able to forge new connections, creating a community of interwoven communities online and in our homes?

Looking back through this blog, I see that I have written a few posts about identity, the first about ‘Identity in the Network’ in 2008. It has been interesting to read back through these posts and I am not surprised to see that the biggest influence on my thinking about identity has been Etienne Wenger’s book: Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity, which is one of the best thumbed books on my bookshelf.

Back in 2011, I attended a talk given by Etienne Wenger at Lancaster University, where I heard him say:

‘The 21st century will be the century of identity’ and ask ‘How do you manage your identity in a world which is so complex and in which there are so many mountains to climb – in which there are too many places to invest in who you want to be?’  which relates to Stephen’s question – ‘How do we project ourselves on the internet?’  There is quite a bit of overlap between Stephen’s writing and what Etienne has written.

According to Etienne, identity is a negotiated expression of the self and there are many landscapes and communities in which to do this, which means that we have to manage multiple trajectories all at once. On page 5 of his book, he writes that identity is ‘a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities. It is not just what we say about ourselves or what others say about us. It is not about self-image, but rather a way of being in the world – the way we live day by day – He expands on this on p.151 of his book, writing:

An identity, then, is a layering of events of participation and reification by which our experience and its social interpretation inform each other. As we encounter our effects on the world and develop our relations with others, these layers build upon each other to produce our identity as a very complex interweaving of participative experience and reificative projections. Bringing the two together through the negotiation of meaning, we construct who we are. In the same way that meaning exists in its negotiation, identity exists – not as an object in and of itself – but in the constant work of negotiating the self. It is in this cascading interplay of participation and reification that our experience of life becomes one of identity, and indeed of human existence and consciousness.

Etienne’s book from which this paragraph is quoted was written in 1998. There is no mention of the internet or online learning in this book. But in 2009 he turned his attention to Digital Habitats in a book he co-authored with Nancy White and John Smith. I am again going to quote a paragraph from p.180 of this book. I am quoting it in its entirety because it seems particularly pertinent to our thinking about identity for the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC.

Our engagement with the socially active medium created by new technologies leaves traces each time we do something on the web. These traces become an impressionistic picture of the self – one that is scattered like dots of paint in a networked canvas, which includes discussions, product reviews, blog posts, pictures, podcasts and videos, instant messages, and tags, as well as comments from other people posted on our traces and comments we add to others’ traces.  This “digital footprint” [my bold] is an evolving (but enduring) image of ourselves over which we only have very partial control. Admittedly, we have always participated in many conversations and interactions; we have always had multiple means to store our memories; our identities have always combined what we produce ourselves and what others reflect and project on us. Recorded in a socially active medium, however, our traces are searchable; they can be found and reassembled dynamically; they are inspectable, manipulable, and remixable. Even when we think we have deleted them, they are found again. Scattered and computable, our footprints create reconstructable trajectories in a public space, largely out of our control. Who are we in this mirror that remembers and talks back with a voice that is only partly our own? Does the potential to remember so much mean that we know ourselves and each other better? Or could our digital footprints hide as much as they reveal, as if their very transparency only added to the mystery of identity?

I can relate to Etienne’s writing. I have questioned in the past, and continue to question, whether I have one identity or multiple identities, how I can know who I am, how I can and whether I should try and keep knowing who I am separate from what others say about me, and how I can know whether the perceived identity of myself, by myself or by others, is ‘true’.

Stephen’s questions (below) are new to me and I’m looking forward to hearing how others on this course react to them. I will need some time to think them through.

  • What do we become in a world of artificial intelligence, linked data and cryptographic functions?
  • We were the client, we were the product – are we, at last, the content?
  • Will we be lost in the sea of possibilities, unable to navigate through the complexities of defining for ourselves who we are, or will we be able to forge new connections, creating a community of interwoven communities online and in our homes?

At the moment, I would like to think that I am, and always will be, more than ‘content’.


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E., White, N. and Smith, J.D. (2009). Digital Habitats. CPsquare:

Posts relating to identity on this blog –

Source of image