Given the recent popularity of anonymity, I’m going to analyze my predictions regarding the space from over 4 years ago when, arguably, few if any were talking about it.
From 12/28/2009 (emphasis mine):
One Decade Ago Today & Future Predictions
One decade ago today, the first phase of the web was reaching its peak. At no time in the history of man had a technology enabled so many people to generate, consume and distribute so much content anonymously. The online forum, the multiple email accounts, the chat room, online dating, flame wars, script kiddies and more porn than you could shake a stick at. The ascent of anonymity gave voice to our most base desires to be heard, hateful, amused and titillated without consequence or guilt. Identity was a masquerade without boundaries, a playground for the creative and the criminal. The willful ignorance of authenticity, transparency and ubiquity mitigated our discovery and connectedness, but at this time, the Internet was another world, a intermittent fantasy that disappeared when our dialup connection turned off.
During the next decade, I see opportunities for the value of anonymity to rise again, against the current tide of persistent identity and leveraged personal branding. However, this type of anonymity will not hide in the shadows, it will hide in the wide open. In a world where the value of information is commoditized at an increasing rate, information value will be found in artificial and real scarcity - scarcity of real-estate (characters, domain names), scarcity of access (VIP treatment, paywalls, encryption), scarcity of membership (micro-networks), and scarcity of discovery (completely leaving the internet grid). Obfuscation in the open will reign. Hi-jacking centralized massively distributed and monetized services in an anonymous way will become commonplace. Zynga’s model is no accident. A Plentyoffish or HotorNot clone will live and thrive inside of Facebook. Offering anonymous connectivity in a sea of identity wins, just as the opposite has proven true for social networks during the 00s. Facebook is no longer the fantasy world, but part of the real world one needs to escape from. The next cool underground music movement will reject the internet entirely, and go to great lengths to remove their music and identity from the internet. Identity and discovery are conformity, and every youth movement eventually eats the strategy of the previous one. Live music and entertainment that can’t be recorded or shared or tagged or discovered will become quaint, a throwback. The clandestine chic will take distribution queues from the clandestine evil - terrorist informed agendas.
Until then, look for me in the wide open, hiding the next big thing.
It should now be clear to many that having a contrarian view isn’t only for permabears and doomsday soothsayers. There is real value opposing the prevailing winds, but only if you are strategic.
I think I was spot on in how the “new” anonymity would play out - “hiding in plain sight” is becoming a common if not necessary “hot” strategy in 2014. Identity affords discovery for marketing purposes, however obfuscating identity at the last mile can make things obscure on a relative basis, rendering intelligence to a set of people we know via an existing network without pinpointing any exact person.
Ironically, incumbent players already invested in permanent identity can’t play in this new playground with any authenticity. The enforced edict of identity or pseudonymity has rendered Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn lifeless and joyless in this new wave of anonymous fun. The utility of full-stack identity managers isn’t fading, but the contextual usage of each is becoming clearer as these new-yet-old ways of communicating reemerge.
This of course leads me to believe there will be a growing set of “outing hacks.” We’ll soon have a common toolset leveraging images, social graph connections, language usage, network addresses, pattern recognition and other forensic data to expose all sorts of anonymous activity a la a certain government agency. For example:
- using Google image search to figure out who your potential OK Cupid date is by cross-referencing it against all images across the entire internet
- using Facebook Graph Search to triangulate a gossipy friend-of-a-friend on Secret/Anonyfish who lives in Boston and went to Duke and likes Burning Man
- a natural language processing algorithm to predict the similarity among posts by a given redditor and the writings of the evasive and mythical Bitcoin creator, Satoshi Nakamoto
I welcome this nascent third wave of anonymous innovation. However, the mixed metaphors when combined with identity will render many more vulnerable than ever, especially as these tools move from the Valley to the Beltway.