Identity vs. Content

As user generated content becomes more important, does identity become less important?

I was thinking about this when I was watching Scoble and Steve Gillmor talk about attention.xml in their little home movie.  Was I watching because its was Robert Scoble and Steve Gillmor?  Eh... Not really.  I mean, that's how I found the video, because I'm more likely to find things from the more popular blogs, but when I was consuming the content--watching the actual video, I don't think I really cared who they were.  In fact, I had to look it up to remember who Steve Gillmor was.  I forget "who" I'm reading all the time, especially when I read RSS feeds and they strip away the format.

I think, in today’s world, the playing field of publishing has never been more level, and it doesn’t matter if you’re the NY Times of a blogger…  your stuff has to stand up on its own.  Legitimacy comes more from being vetted and approved by the community at large than by reputation. 

What about my own content?  Does the amount of myself that I offer up to the masses make my identity more or less critical?  When I post on my blog, my thoughts, in my view, belong to everyone...they become part of a community wide conversation, to be clipped, quoted, linked to, commented on and to inspire new thoughts.  Sure its on my blog, but what does “ownership” really mean?  Do I really own my content if anyone can use it?  Google makes money off my content--a lot more than I do.  So will Feedburner, at some point...and Bloglines and whoever.  I certainly don't feel like I own it when its offered up to the public.

As for my identity, do people read my stuff because I'm Charlie O'Donnell?  Maybe some.  Do people read because they think I'm some punk analyst that has a greater chance of spilling the beans on the valuation than Fred does?  Probably, but again, that's about the content, not about me specifically.  They'd read the blog of Benny, the front desk guy at 915 Broadway, if they thought they'd get the same information out of him.

And yet, because of all of this user generated content, we now we have more personal information about ourselves that ever before.  We know about Brad Feld's reading habits, Jen Chung's eating habits, and my cholesterol level. 

Given the old rules of supply and demand, one might argue that the more information that gets put out there, the less valuable it is, but in Web 2.0, that’s not necessarily true.  To a point, the more information you have about me, the more valuable it is.  Knowing that I am a Mets fan might be valuable, but knowing that I’m a Mets fan and a kayaker is even more valuable, especially if you’re trying to sell me a paddle with a Mets logo on it via AdSense. 

However, is information like that valuable because I, Charlie O’Donnell, am a kayaking Mets fan?  Not really, because if I was the only one, you couldn’t really make a business out of selling one Mets paddle.   No, what really makes my identity valuable is the small group that I belong to—the subset of kayaking Mets fans, and blogging, social networks, Web 2.0 is all about that…  small groups.  What makes Scoble and Gilmor’s conversation meaningful to me is the fact that these two guys are connected to a subset of other like-minded people that they have not only been influenced by, but that they will also influence, and I find this group to have value.  Their conversation, in the grand scheme of the world, isn’t that important, but to an analyst at a VC firm—any analyst, not just me… the group of VC analysts—it is important. 

This is what helps give value to things like the list of RSS feeds I subscribe to or the things I tag in  Both put me in the context of a group and say much about me… or rather, the kind of characteristics people in my small group share. 

Sure, Charlie O'Donnell has a unique voice in that group…   or does he?  I tend to think that, more and more, its not about my unique voice, but more of the aggregate conversation my small group is having that is really meaningful.  If I’m not taking part in a conversation, then I’m just grandstanding and talking for my own benefit—not particularly valuable to anyone but me.