Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 22, 2007 5:24 PM

The Universal Avatar - I'm One Person Online, Why Not Let Me Experience The Web That Way?

You are one person, why can't you experience the Web in the same fashion?

Why must we all constantly create unique profiles and Avatars for the multitude of online social networks, virtual worlds and sites requiring registration or sign up?

As we enter a new era in Search (Google seems to be ramping up the Universal Search - getting all search results - text, images, videos, news, etc_ - in one cohesive page), it seems almost archaic that for every online social network or Web experience we're attempting to engage with that we need a unique passport. It goes beyond the tough task of memorizing username and passwords - and it's not due to laziness (although, as everyone knows, laziness is the Mother of Better Invention). With a Universal Avatar, all of my Digital Life is centralized, easily updated and much more valuable to me (and, in return, to any publisher of content) in one central location.

Here's what I mean: If I have a Universal Avatar, odds are I will treat the "look and feel" of it with a heightened sense of awareness versus what I do now: which is try to find the quickest route to fill out any online form by either ignoring important details, bluffing to speed up the process or simply clicking anything in hopes of sending false information to the publisher as punishment for making me fill out the information in the first place.

A Universal Avatar is the digital representation of me. Accordingly, I would respect it with the same level of integrity I put into my Personal Brand. In fact, I would wholeheartedly argue that my Universal Avatar, and the Personal Brand it represents, might even be more important than my real life one. My real life Personal Brand does not spend its day immersed with close to one thousand LinkedIn contacts, eight hundred Facebook friends and over four hundred people following me on twitter. My online persona does.

This Twist Image Blog, the Six Pixels Of Separation - The Twist Image Podcast, etc_ are all components of my Personal Brand that are migrated into these Digital Channels. Yet, within these channels - more often than not - we're all forced to create unique Avatars per "closed" environment. I'm busy spending too much time ensuring that my Personal Brand is consistent across the many social networks I maintain versus developing lasting relationship with others. What we'll quickly learn is that real-life and your Universal Digital Avatar are very similar. To quote the great Philosopher, Popeye: "I Y'am What I Y'am."

As these online social networks grow and open up their API platform for budding publishers to integrate content and develop widgets, I maintain my concern that the biggest win in taking the Web to the next level is the ability for people, like you and I, to have a Universal Avatar that can be a part of any online community it so chooses.

For Marketers, imagine the possibilities. Imagine the rich data set. Imagine consumers actually spending the time it deserves to nurture and add value to their online presence as it develops from social network to social network. This idea of "command and control" of Avatars in isolated platforms is so very Web 1.0. It just doesn't seem to fit in a world where people are doing everything they can to connect more and more through digital channels with authenticity.

Bring forth a Universal Avatar.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Luis
    Mitch Joel

    I couldn't agree more, I did just that like 3 months ego. I have the same avatar across all the Social Network sites that I own accounts on. Also, naming your avatar file with your name helps when people hover with their mouse to have a name. Same name, same avatar across the board.

    Cheers,

    Luis

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan Schawbel
    Mitch Joel

    I think this forces us to make trade offs. Participating in 100 social networks is not a great move. You should concentrate on the few and largest ones, so that you can actually build a network.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lorri Randle
    Mitch Joel

    Here, Here! I feel the same way. There are so many places that I don't have all the information filled out because I hate all the forms...
    Us Grasshoppers (grasshoppers.ning.com started by Chris Brogan) had a talk about this and how it will help companies with branding as well...

    Reply
  • Posted by Stephen Fink
    Mitch Joel

    A different angle, but may be of interest: http://bradfitz.com/social-graph-problem/

    Reply
  • Posted by Brad Buset
    Mitch Joel

    Check out this great presentation on universal digital identity from the O'Reilly Web 2.0 conference.

    http://tinyurl.com/ya8hws

    A true PPT ninja with a great summary of challenges of managing online identity.

    Reply
  • Posted by Vikram Rajan
    Mitch Joel

    Well, here's what Stephen Colbert has to say about our on-line avatars, our virtual persona, and our brand:

    or if the embed doesn't work, you can read watch is wry perspective here: http://www.comedycentral.com/motherload/player.jhtml?ml_video=91912&ml_collection=&ml_gateway=&ml_gateway_id=&ml_comedian=&ml_runtime=&ml_context=show&ml_origin_url=%2Fmotherload%2Findex.jhtml%3Fml_video%3D91912&ml_playlist=&lnk=&is_large=true

    Reply
  • Posted by Mike Kujawski
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, you hit it bang on. I just finished writing a blog entry (literally like 10 minutes ago) on the importance of personal branding & identity , including how it is being hindered by the fact that many social media networks are in competition with one another. As a result we have multiple unnecessary silos holding our identity information. I am getting quite tired of filling in my identity info over and over again as each new application comes out. The universal avatar idea is one I've always envisioned. My question to you is: Would you really want to have a single universal avatar? Personally, I think I would have a "Personal-life" avatar and a "Business-life" avatar. I like to distinguish between the two. I wrote a bit more about this on my blog, check it out: www.mikekujawski.ca

    Keep them PODCASTS coming!

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    There are lots of great links in the comments.

    I am hopeful that virtual worlds and avatars will become like web browsers... universal and agnostic.

    ...a boy can dream.

    Reply
  • Posted by Phil Barrett
    Mitch Joel

    I totally agree with your POV. One thought is to leverage mobile as your global access key to your digital avatar.

    Unlike web which relies on IP and session cookies, mobile is attached to a real number...a number that doesn't change very often and follows you everywhere.

    With Sprite and Nokia launching mobile social networks...the platforms for this to happen are emerging!

    Reply
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