Layers of Digital Identity

December 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

What is identity? When someone asks you to show ID, what do you show them?  It almost always depends on the circumstance and for now, at least where I live, it’s in the form of plastic cards that fit in my wallet.  Lately, I have more and more of them, and I also have one for each of my children.  Why are we asked for identity, and why do we agree to share it?  Usually, to get something in return:  admission, service, products.  Lately we’ve been giving our identities away for free, often feeling that we have little control over the matter.  Of course, “free” in this case is subjective.  I like the tailored ads (no more maternity clothing ads, thanks), and I enjoy using the software that requires me to login using Facebook or Twitter.  I really appreciate not having to remember another password.  However, isn’t it odd that these services determine the level of identity required and that it is an all or nothing agreement?  There are usually a few “we will have access to xyz” statements that I wish I could uncheck.

We all know that the way we share personal digital data is going to change, but how?  I like where the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) is going, but I’m not convinced that it is as user-centered as it needs to be.  Given the confluence of our digital and physical lives, individuals and businesses need our identities to merge as well.  As with payments, we’re moving from cash, plastic, and paper to digital.  With plastic, it was all or nothing – does the bouncer at the bar really need to know where I live?   Don’t get me started on paper checks… With digital, we should have more control.  We should have the ability as businesses to ask only what is required and as consumers to give only as much as we feel is appropriate.

While there are many pieces missing (and by pieces I mean aggregated data), we have the opportunity as we pick up momentum in digital payments and healthcare to build the digital identity infrastructure in a way that is secure, user-centered, and easily integrated into a variety of systems.  Facebook is a social network and using my Facebook identity as a social identity is appropriate in some cases but not all.  LinkedIn provides an adequate professional identity.  Movenbank is establishing a financial identity.  I’m not aware of a healthcare identity, but given the increase in digital healthcare records, it’s only a matter of time.  The need for this is easily seen when you have a child with a chronic health condition.  If you know of a digital healthcare identity provider, please share in the comments.

Our digital identity should be more like an onion with layers of information that we can trade appropriately.  As in life, it is a combination of things we can easily control and things we cannot – connections, circumstances, opinions, education, decisions, location, physical attributes, habits, attitudes, etc.  It is inherently open and dynamic.  Plastic, paper, and governments could never support this type of identity.  Technology can.

Five Factors Driving Adoption of Mobile Payments

January 31, 2011 § 4 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, Starbucks rolled out a mobile payments app for iPhone, iPod Touch, and Blackberry that gives their customers the ability to pay, reload their Starbucks card, and check rewards all by simply scanning a bar code on the mobile device.  As a tech savvy consumer and someone who would rather skip the line, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of this technology in my mid-sized middle Georgia town.  Yet, I am keenly aware that I am not the average consumer and there are more people than not that see no problem for which this innovation solves.  In an insightful post on whether or not NFC (yes, NFC is a whole other exciting and more capable technology) will ignite mobile payments this year, Karen Webster points out that

“there are millions of contactless cards in circulation today that no one uses, because there’s no inherent benefit in tapping versus swiping.  The potential for NFC is having a really smart computer chip interacting with my really smart phone and a really smart merchant point-of-sale device that provides a better experience for me before, during and after my shopping experience.”

She is absolutely right – it is the customer experience that will drive the mainstream adoption of mobile payments.  But how and what does that mean?

Being a regular reader and fan of Scott Berkun’s blog , I recently finished reading in his book “The Myths of Innovation” how innovations gain adoption.  He cites the author Everett M. Rogers in “Diffusion of Innovations” as writing this:

“Many technologists think that advantageous innovations will sell themselves, that the obvious benefits of a new idea will be widely realized by potential adopters, and that the innovations will therefore diffuse rapidly.  Unfortunately, this is very seldom the case.  Most innovations in fact diffuse at a surprisingly slow rate.”

I think the point Scott is trying to drive home and the one in which I strongly agree, is that there is so much more to the mainstream adoption of something new and disruptive like mobile payments than “technical prowess”.  I’d like to point out that “diffuse” in the above quote is equivalent to widespread adoption.  In his book, Scott describes five factors that define how quickly innovations spread as first defined by Everett M. Rogers.  I hope you’ll bear with me (and Scott will forgive me) if I go just a little bit looser with these and try to apply them to mobile payments with an NFC enabled device.

The first one is Relative Advantage.  This is basically what the consumer perceives as the value of the new innovation and not what its makers perceive as the value.  It is “built on factors that include economics, prestige, convenience, fashion, and satisfaction”.  Simply put, how are mobile payments better than payments made with cash or plastic?  Going back to the Starbucks app, the ability to instantly check your Starbucks Rewards Stars and the other self-service capabilities of adding to your account via a linked credit account or a PayPal account makes mobile the clear winner.  We could also add fraud detection via location awareness using the GPS capabilities of a mobile device and mobile coupons to that list.  If the powers at play (Google, Apple, ISIS) can nail some usability, standardization, and security issues surrounding identity then we won’t be comparing plastic to mobile but rather leather to digital as our mobile devices aim to replace our wallets.

The second is Compatibility.  What does it cost the consumer to transition to using the new innovation, and is it compatible with the consumer’s culture (habits, beliefs, values, etc.)?  This seems to be one of the major hurdles facing the mainstream adoption of mobile payments in any form as it may require costly improvements to or replacement of point-of-sale terminals.  In addition to this added cost to the merchant, the consumer is required to have a smart phone.  However, all signs like this study from Nielsen point to smartphones overtaking feature phones (aka dumb phones) by the end of 2011.

The third is Complexity.  How much learning is required for someone to start using a smart phone to make a payment?  It would be very interesting to see research data from the Starbucks pilot launch.  While the Starbucks video advertisement of their new mobile payments app seems very simple to me, we still have to consider that over half of Americans don’t even own a smartphone yet, so there is not just one learning curve here in the quest for widespread adoption – there are at least two.  There is also training for merchants that must be considered.  I wish I could remember the author, but someone made the point of how the first snafu in this regard may be the unfortunate, overly technical naming of NFC / Near Field Communication.

The fourth is Trialability.  How easy is it to try out?  Well, from a consumer perspective and again using the Starbucks app as an example, it’s as easy as downloading the free app and going to a Starbucks with a scanner.  Looking forward to NFC, I think this may get a little more difficult to do.  However, you could look at PayPal’s Bump-To-Pay for P2P payments as a precursor to NFC P2P payments.  I’m curious if research supports consumers being more comfortable with trialing mobile payments applications for P2P payments over making payments in a retail or other scenario.  I would expect so.  It will be interesting to see how other NFC applications such as Google’s NFC enabled Hotpot sign will help usher in the era of mobile payments.

The fifth is Observability.  How visible are the benefits of the innovation, and how likely are these benefits to spread in social groups?  Given the hype and excitement around mobile computing and social networking, a successfully executed mobile payments application would probably be highly visible.  With the rise of social commerce and the sharing of everything using the very device with which we are paying, the opportunities for making a mobile payments app visible could go up exponentially by every user using the application.  Mobile payments and the mobile wallet have been discussed as well on most of the major news networks and magazines in the U.S.

While I am thrilled about the possibilities surrounding innovation in mobile payments – specifically using NFC – I am in agreement with experts like Karen Webster and Scott Loftesness that mainstream adoption will not happen during 2011, and a successful mobile payments application will have to nail the user experience and provide clear advantages over plastic to merchants and consumers.

The Sock Box

December 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

In my home live five people, all of whom wear different sized socks.  Among these socks of different sizes are different colors and brands.  Laundry must be done almost daily, and we all know there’s a secret land where mismatched, mate-less socks go leaving one stranded.  Matching them up and putting them away takes a lot of time.  There’s also the issue of the kids stripping them from their feet multiple times a day (if you looked under my couch, chances are you’d find some socks).

I’ve tried many processes to mitigate sock loss including buying one brand per person, safety pinning dirty socks, and designating a wash and store bag per person for only socks.  When all these systems failed, I came up with a new one and to my surprise, it’s been very effective: The Sock Box.  Socks get washed with the rest of the laundry, but when it’s time to fold and put away the laundry, ALL socks, regardless of color, size, or brand, go into The Sock Box.  As time permits and on an as-needed basis, socks can be paired, sorted, and delivered.  If there isn’t even time for that (or mainly, there are better ways in which I choose to spend my time), then the sock-less person can go to The Sock Box and there is always a matching pair there.  Beautiful!

How could a technical Sock Box benefit us?  Do we already have a Sock Box? Do our IT organizations have Sock Boxes?  Niche programming, lack of collaboration, working in silos, multiple platforms, good ideas that nobody hears about because they get lost under the couch… These are all lost socks, wanderers, left to attract dust bunnies and eventually are discarded for yet another pair.  Social media, especially within our IT organizations, could create a Sock Box where ideas meet and connect and become useful.  Unified platforms streamline our development efforts and the maintenance that follows.  In need of a new, innovative idea?  Check The Sock Box.

A Ha! Props to social media.

December 24, 2009 § 1 Comment

I might have had an “Oprah-A-ha” moment.  Twitter has given me the ability to follow any entity I like as long as their tweets are not protected.  A few months ago I created my first Twitter account.  Soon, I’m following people and groups that span a diverse group of interests.  Then, I’m tweeting about my equally diverse areas of interest.  Soon my tweets are in the thousands, and I’m wondering if I need separate Twitter accounts to avoid losing one community over another – my techy followers may get bored with my gifted education tweets or my food tweets.  You’re probably familiar with the dilemma.  There are apps for that.

Because introspection is ingrained in my personality, I had to ask myself  “what is the common thread in all these seemingly diverse interests”?  What is it that has me up at night writing and reading about it?  These questions combined with the ever-prevalent question of “what am I going to be when I grow up” has led me (in a very logical manner, of course) to consider what drives me and what will continue to motivate me and excite me in a career for the next 20+ years.  It’s innovation and enabling great minds to develop their ideas and deliver.  Linda Cureton, the CIO of NASA, shares this vision in her blog.   Whether it is one of my own gifted children or a promising colleague or a brilliant artist or chef… The common thread is helping people live up to their potential and building community so that they can help each other.

Does that mean I’m ready to take my hands out of the technical pot?  No way. I love building and creating too.  I want the same things for myself as I do for others who are intelligent and self-motivated.  Detachment from that process diminishes my ability to ultimately enable others and improve upon their processes and methodologies.  Where that puts me in terms of a job title, I have no idea.

How can women improve technology?

December 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Being a programmer and a woman does not better enable me to design more user-friendly, intuitive technology.  My higher estrogen levels also do not make me more creative. Oh, if it were only that easy! After all, the training and experience of most programmers is probably very similar.  In Alan Cooper’s book, “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” (highly recommend), he describes the conflicts of interest that exist when a programmer is tasked with doing real design and how our training (and sometimes inherent traits) make us good programmers and bad designers.  In a time where companies are cutting costs and people and requiring more from each employee, many programmers are tasked with doing all the design work.  Most of us enjoy it – I do.  I like the creative process.  However, given my training and background, self-referential design does not always provide the best result.  Alan Cooper is the father of a design process called “Interaction Design”.  Joel Spolsky suggests “Hallway Usability Testing” (note to self – don’t grab another programmer for this task!) and using the “Five Why’s”.  Our training makes us better designers, not our hormone levels.

So, why do people make such a big deal about women in technology and there not being enough of us?  How would the industry and the products we create benefit if there were more women involved?  It’s the same thing that gives all of us the ability to bring something unique to any creative endeavor – the collection of our experiences.  Experiences big and small set the framework for our decisions and color the lens through which we view life.  As a woman, I am more likely to have spent time doing tasks typically done by the woman of the house.  I manage the kids, the shopping, menu planning, finances etc.  As a programmer and technology enthusiast, I am always on the lookout for gadgets and websites which help me do these tasks and others more efficiently and make it more fun.  The true under-tapped benefit in getting more women into technology is in innovation.  Knowing what technology is available, having the know-how to piece it all together, and looking at a problem from a woman’s perspective can lead to more products and services that help solve problems typically experienced by women.  We can create more solutions that makes doing these tasks delightful.

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