Persona – one year on

13Jan09

It was a little over a year ago when I first wrote about persona, and I’ve done a couple of follow ups since.

It seems that the term is finally finding its way into common usage, and I’m encouraged by the recent posts by Nishant Kaushik and Mark Dixon. Mark’s visualisation is particularly good (and I hope he doesn’t mind me linking to it here):

All of this good work leaves me wondering why the definitions at IdentityCommons (which seems to be where Identipedia has moved to) haven’t really caught up, but maybe that’s just a mopping up exercise? Once again, here’s my own definition:

  • Persona is an abstraction between an entity (usually a biological entity, or person) and a bundle of one or more digital identifiers, so that the entity can present themselves differently according to context.

I think I may have been concentrating too much on implementation details when I came up with that one, but it still encapsulates the key points about expression of a specifically modified identity in a given context (according to a user preference).

One of the challenges I’ve come across many times in the last year is that this concept of persona cuts across what many people have internalised as an aspect of ‘role’. The whole point of using another term is that ‘role’ has become too overloaded, and as we go about designing systems to support the various activities we engage in it’s useful to carve pieces of ‘role’ down to size. I do however accept that this causes trouble for people who’ve invested a lot of time and money into something that already kind of does ‘persona’ but has called it ‘role’. It may be just semantics, but I often find that semantics are very important.



2 Responses to “Persona – one year on”

  1. On the subject of semantics, is there a specific necessity to establish a new term, instead of qualifying the the one we already have (viz., identity)? Persona or role is essentially a way of way of articulating that an identity has facets that may or may not be pertinent/required in the context of a transaction. Admittedly, as it’s currently understood, identity is a flat, system-level construct that usually is invoked in a binary relationship with a resource, rather than as a way of making a declaration about identity ‘state’. One option, in my mind, is creating another term for the technical aspects of role, and co-opting the term to encapsulate the social or economic relationships in the human world.


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