Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Defence of the word Persona

There is currently an argument occurring in the basement of the internet, far away from the ears and eyes of the users of the internet, it is discouraging the use of the word Persona. There are some very good historic reasons for this position. It is indeed important to ensure that there is a very good reason to create new words or new meanings for old words.  Change should always be very well justified.

My position is that we need a word that describes the result of a user / entity compartmentalizing components of their identity. The result is an identity but it is not the full or complete identity of the entity in question; it is a partial identity selected for many reasons including context, risk mitigation, privacy, reputation management, and indeed avoiding boring a circle of friends who have absolutely no interest in my composting exploits..

The word I would use is indeed Persona. I would make clear that the word normally describes the result of an entity having agency over their identity. The number of persona(s)/(e) (or whatever the plural of persona is) and their scope would most often be in the control of the entity. There are however examples of persona that are not fully in the control of the entity, examples such as the Doctor persona, in the UK the BMA has a degree of control over such a persona. Convicted criminals rightly have less control over their Convicted Criminal Persona, and Prisoner Persona than they might wish for, with convicted paedophiles having even less control.

Agency over a persona is an important consideration, I read recently the term "owned audience" in the context of a marketeers view of web-site users. As an audience member I resent the idea of being owned. Sadly Marketeers tend to use the word Persona as something that they can apply to an entity, rather than a view of their identity that the entity chooses to use. This Forbes article from March exemplifies this unfortunate perspective.  Getting the appropriate balance of the control over persona will be an important shift in the future. Many device manufacturers see us as commodities that they own, rather than individuals with rights over our "TV Viewer Persona" for example, they are creating devices that can assume control over the attributes of our Viewer Persona. Both Samsung and LG have demonstrated this approach, with LG going as far as creating a control that it actually ignored, and worse collecting Filenames from connected network devices.

So here's to the word Persona, and a growing understanding of the personal nature and value of a persona, and the importance of having agency over our Personae, where appropriate. In the Intention Economy this perspective will be key!

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