Web 3 has an opportunity to include a “self-sovereign identity layer” that will also be our primary passport into the metaverse. Self-sovereign identity will solve many of the internet’s current issues and may even let us rethink how we represent – and prove – who we are.
JP Bedoya is the chief product officer at Civic. This article is part of “Metaverse Week."
Self-sovereign identity means you as an individual own the data you produce or bring online. It’s “sovereign” because you can choose to share certain elements of that data only up to the point that's required, and no more, to reach a desired end.
With Web 3 uniting so many different areas of our digital and physical lives, there is a need for precise control over how we are represented across these various spheres.
The endpoint is essentially where you access goods, services or join digital communities. Self-sovereign identity, from a foundational point of view, is comprised of multiple elements.
Private, yet accessible and scalable
Companies are interested in users, first and foremost. Everything they do, from initial design to marketing, is in the service of a variation on one main question: Can this help bring in more users? Can this help us bring them on in a friction-free way? Is there an easier way to "acquire" them? And so, as companies build out their "Web 3 strategies," they must think about customers in the metaverse.
A company’s approach to identity will determine a lot about their relationship with users. If the process is cumbersome, invasive and repetitious they will drive many potential customers away. The onboarding process must be user friendly and most of all, as fast as possible.
When users are forced to enter information multiple times, or upload multiple pieces of identification, then wait 48 hours or more to have these documents approved, then still have steps they must go through to finalize, it becomes too much.
Compelling people to drop out of their acquisition funnel is a business risk. Crypto companies are uniquely aware of the need for know-your-customer requirements – if only to turn bad actors away at the door. Of course, some will slip through, and that's the cost of doing business.
A Web 3 developer’s goal in providing identity solutions is to deliver the highest level of trust without getting in the way of user acquisition. Composable, reusable and cross-chain identity solutions are a must in this regard.
A one-click ID verification process will benefit all of Web 3.
Levels of identity
But who are we in the metaverse?
Well, who do we want to be? Identity doesn’t have to be an existential crisis. For example, on LinkedIn you may present yourself as a professional, on Twitter you may be less formal and on Discord you're probably an anonymous degen divorced completely from the person you see in the mirror.
With self-sovereign identity solutions in the metaverse, we can tailor our public-facing identities. We can choose how we’re represented.
On social media platforms today, companies often know who the person is behind the avatar. We provide verifiable information when we create an account, but we don’t get to control how that data is used. These Web 2 platforms store, control and repurpose the data.
However, Web 3 identity standards applied to the metaverse – perhaps using non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which may be anonymous – our identities will be reducible to the verifiable information on a blockchain. We will decide what exact pieces of data a counterparty actually needs to review or what we want to share.
Tokenized identity is also always already validated, thereby erasing the the repetitious need to create logins, passwords and backup solutions for websites with a firewall.
These layers of identity can be applied dynamically across all platforms at all times. This is exactly how an interconnected metaverse should be designed.
NFTs as building blocks of social identity
Our crypto wallets are becoming representative of us on Web 3, and the NFTs in those wallets are a genuine, if non-legal digital identity. We are what we do on the blockchain. NFTs show what communities we are passionate about, our goals, our values – and they can do it in a dynamic, ever-changing way without even using words. (A profile pic is worth 1,000 words.)
NFTs are an aesthetic language, appropriate for today's internet denizens so focused on high resolution images and video content. Are NFTs the final step in representational identity on the web, or just a quick stop on a longer journey? What lies beyond JPEGs?
See also: JPEGs On Sale, Baby | Opinion
Humans are tribal, we want to belong and integrate ourselves in like-minded communities that are focused on the things we are passionate about. And, just as we have since the dawn of humanity, we submit to our innate urges to form tribes, develop communication standards and protect one another.
NFT communities speak to this primal (or if you're a member of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, primitive or simian) desire to belong. Of course, when communities form without the constraints of physical space, things get strange. Our identities become more fluid.
From a bird’s eye view of this primitive, yet technical industry, the metaverse's horizon appears endless and so does our ability to recreate ourselves. And so we must work to preserve the freedom of individuals to self-identify by building those technical capabilities into the DNA of Web 3.
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