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Upgrading my avatar

For a while now, I've been using this drawing of me by Hallie Bateman as my avatar:

I love it, particularly because I'm a big fan of Hallie's work. But it's also not quite me, exactly: you get the same whimsical drawing no matter the topic.

I used to be a big Livejournal user. Based on the kind of writing I post here, you can probably guess that it was pretty confessional stuff: I'd share all kinds of details about my life as long-form posts. (Most of the people I was sharing with were my real-life friends.)

LJ pioneered a bunch of really great features - per-item access permissions, for one - but one of the best was the ability to change your avatar based on your mood. If you were a paying user, you could upload a whole palette of images and choose which one would represent you based on however you felt at the time.

Since then, avatars have become fixed representations of ourselves in online space, like a brand. You can expect the same image to follow someone everywhere; you immediately know who it is based on visual recognition.

But what if we don't want that? What if we want our identity to be more nuanced and faceted? What if we want our profiles to evolve as our lives do - not just our avatars but our descriptions, locations, and every nuance, up to and including our preferences? Updating every single service sounds like hard work, and it's not like most services use something like a Gravatar.

Really, everything should pull from a central digital identity, whether it's your website or some other core address. (Of course, anyone should be able to have any number of digital identities, so as to have the freedom to keep various aspects of their lives apart.) That's not how it works today; everything is siloed. Although there are all kinds of decentralized identity protocols, digital identity in the mainstream hasn't evolved far from the Bulletin Board Systems of the 1980s.

Imagine if you could choose an identity and present it everywhere you needed to. Online services would keep your avatar and contact details up to date; restaurants and airlines could automatically know your allergies and food preferences. You could withdraw and restrict data at any time.

All this is what the self-sovereign identity movement is all about. It's never really been made mainstream, but that doesn't mean it won't be. The first usable version won't be particularly fully-featured; it'll be simple and fun to use. And I'd love to give it a try.

In the meantime, maybe I should start using photographs of my actual face again?

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