Originally published at www.onlinecommunityreport.com

Interview with Jan Hauser, Naval Postgraduate School

by Jim Cashel
November 2002

Jan Hauser is a Visiting Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterrey, California and a former Principal Architect for Advanced Technology at Sun Microsystems.  These days Jan is thinking hard about individual identity on the Internet and the necessary infrastructure for managing identity within online communities.

Can you say a few words about yourself and your connection to online community topics?

I'm very interested in new media. I believe our media has shaped our society in more ways than most people realize, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

I think broadcast media such as Newspapers, Radio, and TV has significantly de-constructed community in our modern world. One way to view this is an institution talking to people without the ability of the people to effectively talk back or among each other… no real potential for collective discovery, discussion or dialogue here.

The Internet provides us with the ability to have peer-to-peer and many-to-many communication patterns which our broadcast media lack. I'm interested in ways to better leverage this potential to help re-generate community and more positive social outcomes.

You're currently interested in matching technologies, and some of the web technologies that enable matching technologies. Can you say a bit about that?

This is a very big subject and before we can talk about matching we first need to cover some fundamental issues of what form Identity is taking on the Internet, and also on the World Wide Web (WWW). 

Please note I do not lump the Internet and the WWW into a signal phrase "Web Technologies". 'Matching' will be enabled by the creation and evolution of identity on both the Internet and the WWW. 

Each of these has distinctly different and important technical properties and governance principals. The issue of technology governance is also a good topic in and of itself. Some technologies are very much issue of public infrastructure and public concern; roads, power, water, mail and other forms of communications.

In the same way certain characteristics of our broadcast media now shapes our society, the software architecture and protocols that run within and on the Internet have implicit impact. As Internet based social interactions evolve they may develop a bias of creating either impelled or compelled social outcomes, so it's important to be sensitive to, and informed about, these forces as we attempt to civilize cyberspace, including the evolution of both the Internet and the World Wide Web. 

We often refer to a group of people interacting with each other over the Internet and the WWW loosely as a "community", but I think this merits a much closer look at various features that lead to the creation of healthy communities. Let's look at our position today.

Various technical properties and technology governance principals lead to the creation of systems that may be more open or closed, inclusive or exclusive and tend to either impel or compel our collective behavior. How these community boundaries come about and are governed or "managed" is very important. The World Wide Web (WWW) which runs on the Internet was a great advance simply because it is easy to use and therefore useful. 

The fundamental organizing principal of the WWW, which runs on the Internet, is the hyperlink and the URL. URL's do not have the ability to represent a real-word person, or citizen, very well. So URL's are more about creating places, or "sites" that we, as individuals, can choose to visit or not. We have yet to create and broadly adopt any good means to electronically represent each of us as individuals in cyberspace.

URl's are typically dependent on, or begin with Internet Domain Names. The specific issue I want to highlight here is that, once any URL (Domain Name) of the WWW is established, that URL becomes basically private property wither we like it or not. The person or corporation that owns and operates the site may become either a great mayor or vicious dictator of the site… the site becomes whatever he or she or it wishes to be, at a whim. 

So currently our choice is to visit a site or not, but let's look closer at this process of so-called site "visitation"? Since we do not have any accepted standards for the creation of our individual electronic identity, we enter the site anonymous, and then, with our own labor and dedication try create our identity inside each specific site according to the site owner's rules. Once identity is created it effectively becomes the property of the site owner. So URL-based "communities" are more like walled castles with one-way doors, identity is only created within the site, and cannot escape. 

Good communities often have many paths to, from, and between them. The paths may be of several types, public, private, or places where both public and private intersect, like the sidewalk space in a city. When societies get into trouble they tend to put up too many or inappropriate barriers and walls. This is not the case on the Internet today. We simply have not yet created the technical and governance means to construct these types of electronic spaces and pathways.

I think it's extremely important to be mindful about how we go about creating and setting electronic standards for creation and management of our individual identity in and on the Internet. How this is accomplished will actively shape the capacity for the Internet to help us develop communities in the truest sense, or not. How we go about this will greatly effect the ability of each individual to express his or her needs, interests, offerings, and other features within the vast realm of persona.

What is the current status (and main players) with respect to an individual's online profile management?

The original design of the Internet has a very, very, weak from of Identity and is not currently sufficient to mirror what happens in our real world.

The creation of URL's did not solve this problem either. Now organizations such as Microsoft, which are principally interested in achieving commercial advantage over their competitors, have recently made the first move in the area of online identity for individuals. They moved to establish "the" standard and a service to be offered and maintained by them to create and maintain our individual identity in cyberspace world-wide for us. This move was referred to as Passport and Hailstorm. 

In response, Sun Microsystems, AOL, United Airlines, and many others created an anti-Microsoft effort to tip the commercial advantage in their favor, which is called The Liberty Alliance. This is a positive move in that the stated goal is to create a marketplace for a set of Federated Identity service offerings and allow consumer/customer "choice" within a marketplace of identity service offerings. 

As far as any external observer can tell this is little more than a promise from a second set of commercial entities primarily focused on concerns of commercial advantage. I say this because the process for the creation, adoption and evolution of these standards is closed and seems to be governance-free zone… we do not know who, if anyone, is making up what rules of governance, or why. 

The Liberty Alliance has effectively stumped Microsoft's attempt to hijack our identity with their Passport and Hailstorm effort. Overall, I think this was better than what was happening, but now Microsoft and IBM have teamed together to create an anti-Liberty-Alliance alliance called Web Services Interoperability Organization or WS-I. 

I view this process as having several strictly-commercial Godzilla's stomping around in what should be a space for both commercial and public good. There is a real hazard in this current process in that once a particular technology hits a certain critical-mass of usage it tends to lock in. Once locked in, no one can easily reverse or remove its primary or side effects. 

This was true of the QWERTY keyboard layout, our FAX machine standards, the Ethernet and other commutation standards. In fact, the whole phenomena of tipping points and lock-in tend to be the general rule when it comes to various communication technologies. The big question is: will whatever tips in for individual identity primarily serve commercial interests or will it also serve public and community interests?

My wish is to have those interested in community better understand how this technology effects potential societal outcomes and then become more active to moderate what seems to be a very important battle. This is currently a battle of commercial giants primarily concerned with how we, as individuals, present an opportunity for consumption and profit, and not much beyond.

You've been involved with the Chaordic Commons. What is that?

The Chaordic Commons is an outgrowth of the thinking and initial efforts of a remarkable individual by the name of Dee Hock. Dee has mused much of his life on the phenomena we refer to as community. Dee was the leader of a most remarkable effort, which re-conceived the very idea of "Governance". While Dee regards his first attempt as a failure, it has been a most remarkable and spectacular failure. This "failure" is a highly distributed and decentralized self-organizing governance apparatus we now know as VISA international. 

Dee came out of retirement a few years back because he perceives that the governance practices and models that became popular 400-600 years ago currently threaten the sustainability of current human life styles and life on our planet. 

One of his key messages is that efforts to reinvent government are not sufficient to our current challenge. Dee says what we must do is re-conceive governance. 

VISA has proven that such new models can work effectively and to a large scale for a specific purpose. In the case of VISA we now have a new supra-national form of worldwide currency. This is a currency that has evolved beyond the scope of the largest formalized organizational form we know, the Nation-State. Dee decided to come out of retirement in part as the result on a new branch of science commonly referred to as CHAOS and Complexity theory. He deemed in necessary to coin a new term when applying this theory to the space of governance matters, hence the term Chaord or Chaordic, a contraction of the words chaos and order.

The Chaordic Commons is a collection of people and institutions that share a common interest. The overall purpose is "To develop, disseminate and implement new concepts of organization that result in more equitable sharing of power and wealth, improved health, and greater compatibility with the human spirit and biosphere" 

When it comes to the creation and evolution of electronic systems for individual identity in cyberspace, I favor governance forms, protocol, and software systems that are designed for, and capable of, both distributed and decentralized operation. 

This is not to say that in appropriate areas central authority will not emerge when needed. It is to emphasize a principal that notes that central authority is not always required, and when it is required, it best emerges from the collective acts, needs, and wishes of individuals as the need arises, and will diminish when the need no longer exists.

As you look to the future, which online community / group collaboration issues do you find the most important or promising?

This is easy, how will we evolve the Identity on and within Internet? 

How will we create and maintain the next generation of software standards and protocols which will best realize the Internets full potential. We have just barley scratched the surface of the potential of this brand new media form. It has the potential to liberate humanity. There is likely no going back either. We must carefully and thoughtfully learn how to civilize this new communication space. We are made by our means of communication. As we make it, it makes us.