Identity in context

“Context” has become the second-most-commonly used word in the identity industry after “identity” itself. And rightly so, since its practically mantra now that identity only exists in context, and — at least for people — is so incredibly context-sensitive.

Paul Madsen, editor of many of the Liberty Alliance specifications, gives a good example of this when he blogged about how I identify myself in the context of different specifications of which I am an editor or contributor. We all do the same thing when we consciously choose which affliations (if any) we list on a business card, a sign-in list, a conference badge, etc. (The irony of the particular example Paul gives is that Peter Davis, who wrote the SAML XRI Authentication Service specification at, was the one who decided what addresses would be used 😉 )

But Paul’s right: one of the very most basic ways in which individual’s control their identity is by the affiliations they reveal (or not) in the addresses they use. Email addresses, for example, may or may not place an individual within the context of a particular community or company. asserts a personal context, whereas asserts a company context (particularly if the company name is recognizeable to the reader).

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could could always have 100% control over the context in which you were asserting your identity? In other words, I could be =drummond.reed in a global context, but then assert myself as:


That’s one of the key features we’re working on for i-names.


About Drummond Reed

Internet entrepreneur in identity, personal data, and trust frameworks
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