Between Friendster profiles, Flickr photo streams, LiveJournal blogs and bookmarks — not to mention e-mailing, instant messaging and Skyping — the much-ballyhooed “social web” can feel like a slippery slope to multiple personality disorder.

But if a still-under-development service called the GoingOn Network lives up to its hype, our online selves may soon enjoy a long-overdue digital reintegration.

GoingOn, announced last week and slated for release in the fall, is the brainchild of Macromedia founder Marc Canter and Tony Perkins, the founder of business media site AlwaysOn.

Calling it a “digital lifestyle aggregator,” Canter promises that individuals will need just one login and password to check news feeds, publish blog posts, manage social networks and swap photos or music online — all while being able to access the same services they currently use.

GoingOn will also have its own social-networking component built in, but Canter is adamant that he’s not trying to get other products to run on his platform. Instead, his goal is interoperability; in his words, “We will become an identity hub.”

GoingOn is just one part of a growing movement called “Identity 2.0” that is dedicated to challenging the way our identities are managed online.

Identity 2.0 is the idea that people should have precise control over what others know about their personal data. As online shoppers know, we are expected to part with significant amounts of information to process even simple transactions online — from names and addresses to credit card numbers and mothers’ maiden names. And once the data has been sent off into the ether, it’s anybody’s guess what becomes of it.

According to Dick Hardt, CEO of Vancouver-based Sxip Identity (pronounced “skip”), this reflects a fundamental discrepancy between the way identity is handled in the online and offline worlds.

In the online sphere, he said, “We currently have a model that’s … very opaque.” If you go into a liquor store to buy alcohol, he points out, there’s a clear, standard protocol: You show your license and, if you’re old enough, the clerk sells you the booze. The worker doesn’t look up your name on some hidden system and accept or reject the transaction for no discernable reason — though that is how business is conducted online, Hardt contends.

As an alternative, Hardt and others have proposed a system that is more transparent to the user, based around individuals maintaining their own repositories of personal data.

According to their vision, a company like would no longer demand that you hand over tons of personal information before giving you an account and selling you a book. Instead, you, as the would-be purchaser, would offer Amazon whatever information you feel comfortable giving out — such as your name, address and payment details — and the retailer would be put in the position of accepting or rejecting your purchase.

Sxip and others have also proposed requiring vendors to reveal what, exactly, they’ll be doing with the data they obtain. With such a system in place, if you don’t like the terms offered by one seller, you could just buy the product from someone else instead.

By Mike Nowak

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