In a stunningly poignant address at Web 2.0 on Monday, Chris Poole, founder of controversial web sites 4Chan and Canvas, challenged Facebook, Google and online adventurers everywhere to think about identity not as a mirror, but as a prism; not as black and white, but multi-faceted; not as software would have us be, but as we truly are. Poole bemoaned Facebook's "one-size fits all" design, calling it a "fast food approach to identity."
Poole, who followed the likes of seasoned CEOs Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com and John Donahoe of eBay, could have easily been mistaken for one of their offspring, and the early Tweeting around his stand-and-deliver address focused on his youthfulness; but suddenly the crowd turned, capturing not the precociousness with which he spoke, but the actual ideas, spun like a trap.
His message, he said, wasn't about creating anonymity, but about users creating their own sense of identity. By focusing on allowing users to segment those with whom they share, Facebook and Google have missed the point that "it's not the audience, it's your context within that audience," Poole said. "It's not who you share with, but who you share as." Being able to share under an identity of your own choosing, he argued, leads to a much richer experience for everyone.
"Google and Facebook would have you believe that you are a mirror, that there's one reflection that you have; one idea of self," Poole added. "What you see in that mirror is what everybody else sees. But in fact, we're more like diamonds: you can look at people from any angle and see something totally different."
Poole said that Twitter gets identity right more than Google and Facebook, because it allows people to create handles for themselves. He pointed out that most people actually end up using their full names anyway. The problem as Poole sees it is that we risk the ability to be more expressive and creative.