One of the problems of advanced western society is that people struggle with their sense of identity.  In times gone by people found their identity in their religion, their standing in the local community or from their work.  To a greater or lesser extent these have all ceased to work for large portions of the population.

Social networks and the web are giving people a new way to express themselves and think about who they are and the growth of these phenomena are testament to how much was missing from people’s lives before hand.

Following the rise of social networks and other web services we are now seeing companies that want to help you manage your identity across multiple services.  Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are playing at this, and there are a number of start-ups – Sxip, Marc Canter’s PeopleAggregator, and here in the UK Simon Grice’s ETribes are after this play.

This is actually a great area for start-ups.  I think people will prefer to use a company that is independent of the big boys to manage their identity and that there will be big bucks for the one that manages it.

It will be tricky though.  As well as overcoming the problem of finding a way to deliver a decent service before there is critical mass the complexity of identity needs to be understood.

I am a firm believer that our identity is multi-faceted.  We show a different face at work to the one for the family to the one for our friends for example.  Identity management services need to recognise that and allow you to choose which parts of your profile are shown where.  They also need to intelligently help you build your profile and then edit it – again allowing for multiple overlapping profiles for each individual.

So execution will be difficult, yet at the same time good execution will be critical.  If the site is difficult to use it won’t get anywhere, but dumbing it down won’t work.