Digital Identity

Digital identity is an interesting and complex (some say nebulous) concept and field of research. Recently, I have been digging a little bit deeper into current theory and research related to digital identities taking int account that the challenge of researching digital identities already starts with defining (digital) identity. Surely this can be and has been done from a number of different perspectives, including psychology, sociology, linguistics, media studies and many more.

Here I would just like to start with some of my favourite, thought-provoking conceptualisations of identity:

  • Social identity is not a fixed possession, but a social process, in which the individual and the social are inextricably related (Jenkins, 1996)
  • Patchwork-identities and identity construction as a dynamic and interactive process of patchworking of different identity components (Keupp, 1999)
  • Changing nature of identity (fluid identity), self-identity including self-reflexivity and creating biographical narratives (project of the self) as an inescapable issue in post-traditional societies (Giddens, 2002)
  • Collective identities as resistance identities, the identity-based social mobilisation in the network society and identities as reflexive achievement in post-traditional societies (Castells, 2006)
  • Identities in “liquid modernity” are negotiated, formed and reformed (Bauman, 2007)

And now I will add some of my favourite conceptualisations of digital identity:

  • Using virtual spaces to construct identity as multiple yet coherent notions with the identity on the computer as sum of the sum of distributed presence (Turkle, 1995)
  • The tripartite play of identities in context of video games: multiple real-life identities, virtual identities and projective identities (as a fusion between game-players and their avatars), as well as  the idea that learning involves taking on and playing with identities (Gee, 2003)
  • Digital identities as data that uniquely describes a person as subject or any other entity, which also includes information about the relationship of the subject to other subjects or entities (Windley, 2005)
  • Identity expression in digital media as part of community involvement, which in itself provides strong incentives for creative expression and active participation in terms of “participatory culture” (Jenkins, 2006)
  • Constructing digital identities as empowerment and personal growth through online self-expression by means of self-publishing, self-reflection, self-documentation (Stern, 2008)
  • Compulsory individuality and regulation of self-expression through consumer culture, exploring the relationship between the structured of consumerism and the agency in terms of the capacity to think and act freely (Willett, 2008)
  • Representations of digital identity as a constant process of negotiation and self-presentation (Boyd, 2004)
  • Digital identity narratives as stories we tell digitally about ourselves to the world linking digital identity to digital storytelling (Koosel, 2011)

Many times it is pretty hard to identify the relevant publications or initiatives as the concept of digital identity is often not explicitly referred to as “digital identity”, but for example as “self-presentations” , “personal brands”, “digital narratives” or “digital traces”.

As these are all different descriptions or different forms of digital identity, I have created a stack on Delicious dedicated to curating web resources related to (digital) identity that I find inspiring. I am aware there are probably many more good publications and examples out there and it would be great to hear from you about related research and practice!

E-Portfolios and Online Presence

A recent Forbes blog post on personal branding based on the Office Team survey with HR managers has claimed that in the next years online presence will replace traditional resumes. The blog post advises to claim the online presence and manage the different personal profiles on social networks by setting up a central page to collect and showcase digital traces. Although the Office Team survey shows, that about 63% of HR managers don’t consider online presence to be a likely alternative to resumes, online presence is definitely already supplementing our resumes to a lesser or larger extent.  With recruiters using the Internet to conduct background searchers and applicant tracking, active management of own social media profiles becomes crucial. Since in some professions being present on social media has become a must, avoiding or ignoring the evidence   of social presence is not a viable solution.

The idea of aggregating our digital traces comes very close to the Personal Learning Environment approach and the idea of  bringing PLEs and E-Portfolio approaches closer together as expressed by and Simon Grant in his blog post “PLE, e-p, or what?” An e-portfolio based on the PLE approach would :

“(…) be a tool for bringing together evidence residing in different systems, and organising it to provide material for reflection on, and evidence of, skills and competence across different areas of life, and integrating with institutional systems for recognising what has already been learned, as well as slotting people in to suitable learning opportunities.”

If online presence is going to supplement or maybe even eventually taking over our resumes, how then career or showcase e-portfolios should be designed in order to support keeping track of, aggregating and evaluating various digital traces we create when using the web? What should an output presented to recruiters be like?

Stohmeier (2010) in his article “Electronic Portfolios in Recruiting?” makes an important point about what he calls “output quality” of e-portfolios defined as “ the degree to which e-portfolios are able to predict the fit of an individual with possibly volatile job, team and organizational requirements. Consequently, the validity (the degree to which e-portfolios inform about what they should inform) and reliability (the degree to which e-portfolios are accurate, i.e. free of measurement flaws) constitute valuable evaluation criteria for the output quality”.

However, he remarks that currently the functions which would automatically extract meaningful information for recruiting are missing:

“(…)  e-portfolios of current design are not able to predict the fit of an individual directly. Rather, e-portfolios offer valuable input information for the prediction task. This information, however, has to be “manually” retrieved, interpreted and used by the recruiter in order to predict potential fits. Given the extent of e-portfolios this “manual” retrieving and interpreting of offered information is a burdensome and laborious task for recruiters (…)”

This is really a good point that we also know from other uses of e-portfolios in educational contexts. For example in order to be able to assess learning progress of a person in reflection-based portfolios, complex evaluation criteria and time-consuming assessment procedures have to be applied, which may be the reason why still many educators are keep on taking up the e-portfolio approach.

It would be interesting to discuss which approaches can alleviate the cumbersome retrieval and interpretation of relevant information in e-portfolios, also in relation to multiple digital traces created by online presence.