Digital Identities ­ Patterns in Information Flows
Talk given at the Intermedia Departement, Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest
February 22, 23, 2000, edited and updated: July 2000
© Felix Stalder

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Identity is, in large parts, dependent on communication. What one can be ­ and what can be one ­ is determined in interaction. If this interaction takes place through communication media, it consists primarily of exchanges of information. The shapes of such identity-building exchanges are molded by the media in which they take place. If these media change, then the possible and actual shapes of identity change with them. This essay explores the conceptual framework of informational identity in regard to some the emerging shapes developed by cultural activists within interactive media environments. But first, a flash back. Turkle, Sherry (1995). Life on the Screen. Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster

Steven G. Jones (ed.) (1997) Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in Cybersociety. London: Sage
In the summer of 1556 a man walked into a small village in the French Pyrenees. He declared himself to be Martin Guerre, the very same who had disappeared without a trace 8 years before. A controversy ensued. Was the man really the person he claimed to be, or was he an impostor assuming someone else's identity? The man could recall intimate details about Martin Guerre's life, but he seemed to look a bit different to what most villagers remembered. How much could a person change in eight years? And how accurate were personal memories in a time where there were no pictures of average people?
Zemon Davis, Natalie (1983). The Return of Martin Guerre. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
After some initial dispute the village life settled back to normal, with Martin Guerre as one of its members. Until the day he decided to sell some of his properties. This was too much for Martin's younger brother who, suspicious from the beginning, brought him to court. A long case began. One after another, the villagers were invited to testify. Most of them had no reason to distrust his wife, Bertrande, who had accepted him as her husband. However, doubts remained. The local shoemaker, for example, still had a model of the foot of Martin Guerre, taken before he had left the village, and the feet of the man who returned were undoubtedly smaller. This was unheard of. But was it impossible? Abstract of Zemon Davis's book.
In the meantime some people had been found who claimed to recognize the man, but not as Martin Guerre, but as Arnaud du Tilh a man of ill-repute from Gascony. The local judge was confused, whom could he trust? There were claims against claims. Eventually, he sent the case to Toulouse, the nearest major town. There a new judge examined more than 150 witnesses. Most important were the facts that Bertrande was a woman of good reputation, and that Martin actually bore a physical resemblance to his sisters. While there were people who claimed to know him under a different name, the judge decided that it was better to leave unpunished a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one. Just as he was about to clear all charges, another man appeared who also claimed to Martin Guerre. Comparing the two, all memories were refreshed and even Bertrande had to admit that this was her real husband. Arnaud du Tilh was convicted and hanged.
Identity ­ an informational approach:
The case of Martin Guerre illustrates a number of aspects which underlie the dynamics of the shaping of identity in general. Identity is dynamic and unstable; it is the result of negotiations between claims and counterclaims; it reflects and defines the relationships between individuals and their environment; and, the way identity is built or deconstructed is deeply dependent on the communication technologies available. Identity, then, is not primarily an intrinsic property of the person or the thing identified, but a social characteristic emerging from interaction. The media that shape this interaction shape the possible forms of what can emerge. Arnaud du Tilh could assume, at least temporarily, the identity of Martin Guerre because he lived in a face-to-face culture and the only available means of reliable identification ­ continuous interaction ­ had been interrupted long enough to make it unavailable. There were no established technologies or techniques ­ photographs, signatures, or finger prints ­ that would have allowed the bridging of a gap of 8 years. Even what we nowadays might accept as an objective identifier ­ the shoemaker's model ­ was of uncertain reliability for Guerre's contemporaries. There was no agreement on how to interpret the fact that the new Martin Guerre's feet were smaller than the model created from them more than a decade earlier. Maybe it was possible that feet could shrink? Perhaps the shoemaker himself was unreliable?
McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill
But what is the stuff that identity is made of? There are at least as many approaches to this question as there are disciplines of thought. Psychologists tend to relate identity to self-awareness: who one believes to be in relation to others. For sociologists, identity, in the classic formulation of Peter Berger (1963), is "socially bestowed, socially maintained and socially transformed." It is sometimes analyzed in terms of behaviour that allows to recognize someone as a member of a specific group. Identity, then, exists simultaneously on an individual and a group level. In a philosophical tradition, identity relates to the problems of permanence (amid change) and of unity (amid diversity). How can we know that one thing is still the same, even though it has changed, and, how can we know that certain things belong together, even though they are different? For cybernetic theorists, identity is a communicational ideal in which messages are received exactly as sent: identity is created by a signal without noise. Berger, Peter L. (1963). Invitation to sociology: a humanistic perspective. New York: Doubleday.
For the present purposes ­ an exploration of new shapes of identity in media environments ­ we can combine the notion of a social construction with an interest in the relationship between permanence and change. Identity, then, can be understood as a pattern arising from mediated information exchanges. This pattern, though flexible, needs to be permanent enough to be recognized across time and space. The informational pattern includes two separate but related sets of information. The first one concerns the internal unity of the entity identified. This patterns makes it possible to recognize that entity is indeed one consistent thing, and not two or more. In other words, the thing identified can be called an single entity, and is not just an assembly of different people or things. For a set of information to create a distinct pattern, rather than randomness, it must be ordered by some characteristics shared by all elements. A group of people standing at a street corner waiting for the light to turn green in order cross the street has no identity. The commonality ­ waiting at a street light ­ is too ephemeral to create any unity among the people waiting which would allow their common definition them across time and space. Castells, Manuel (1996). The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. I. Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell
While one set of information creates patterns in terms of inclusion, the other creates patterns in relation to exclusion. For an identity to emerge, it must not only be clear what belongs to it, but also, what doesn't. Exclusion allows differentiation between the thing identified and its environment. Cultural identity, for example, is often created by exclusion of some, while it is often somewhat elusive what exactly is the commonality. Anglophone Canadians often answer the question about who they are with: "We are not Americans!"
Identity, then, is a pattern that emerges from the sum of all the information which defines what something -­ a person, an organization, an artifact ­ is and what it is not. As a pattern that is recognizable as a whole, it serves as a short-cut to deal quickly with large amounts of information, and reduce it to its seemingly essential qualities. In this sense, identity can be understood as meta-information. Information about information. Whereas the American anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1973) famously defined information as "a difference which makes a difference" we could say the same thing about identity. Identity is a pattern (inclusion) that makes a difference (exclusion). What form this informational pattern takes on, and what differences can be made, is deeply shaped, though not determined, by the media through which the information circulates and in which the pattern emerges. Bateson, Gregory (1973). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballentine Books
The case of Martin Guerre illustrates that, if direct physical continuity is interrupted, the relationship between the informational pattern identifying and the physical entity identified is problematic. Layers of mediation make it difficult to assess the character of the relationship between the physical entity and the communicated identity. At least four types of relationships between the physical and the informational are possible.
Physical and digital identity
Building on the work of the Australian privacy scholar Roger Clarke (1997, 1996) we can differentiate between four sets of relationships between physical entities ­ which could be individuals, groups, organizations, animals, robots etc. ­ and the informational patterns they create: anonymity, identification, pseudonymity and collective identity.
Clarke, Roger (1997). Chip-Based ID: Promise and Peril. Invited Address to a Workshop on 'Identity cards, with or without microprocessors: Efficiency versus confidentiality', at the International Conference on Privacy, Montreal, 23-26 September 1997
Physical Entity <=> Informational PatternType of Identity
No recognizable relationshipAnonymous ID
One to oneFull ID
One to manyPseudonymous ID
Many to oneCollective ID
Clarke, Roger (1996). Privacy in Smart Card Applications in The Retail Financial Sector. Paper prepared for the Centre for Electronic Commerce, Monash University and The Australian Commission For The Future
For an identity to be anonymous, it must not be possible to create a link between the informational pattern and the physical entity which created it. At the moment, this is relatively easy to achieve on the Internet. Using services such as, an anonymous remailer, it is possible to post to the Internet email messages that are, in effect, untraceable to the source of their origin. Similar are services such as, which are designed so that anyone can sign up for an email address without proof of identity, and, where anyone can sign-up for webspace and host an Internet website. Both reveal their electronic origin, but this does not necessarily provide a link beyond the digital. Such tools put the means of relatively anonymous communication into the hands of everyone. However, conceptually, this is not much different from classical literary nom de plume or anonymous publishing made possible by the printing press. While it has been relatively difficult to remain anonymous in physical space, it is much easier on-line. Hence, it has become a standard option of communication. Hackers are one of the groups that are proud of their well known digital identities, kept carefully separate from their physical ones. Some are virtual superstars, giving interviews while remaining anonymous. Their stories can be found in mass media almost daily: "Maxim" who stole the credit card data of 300.000 people and tried to sell it off over the Internet, or "Mixter" who wrote one of the programs used in distributed denial-of-service attacks on websites, but who in interviews denied all responsibility for them. Anomymizer
Mixter interview with ZDNet (10.02.2000)
The inverse to anonymity is full identification. Full identification makes the link between the physical person and the informational identity stable and unambiguous for all contexts concerned. For centuries, artifacts have been developed that helped to create and maintain such a relationship. Passports, including the name, the signature and the photo of the person and, sometimes, fingerprints and identification numbers, are such artifacts. To tamper with them, that is, to weaken the link between the information they contain and the person described, is universally outlawed. On the Internet, we can distinguish between "weak" and "strong" identification. Weak identification is used for communication where trust can be assumed. Most people send emails under their own name and in most cases there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the identification. We simply trust that the person who sends us the email really is the same as she appears to be. However, such trust cannot be assumed everywhere. Strong identification refers to the fact that means are available to check the accuracy of the identification, either through a third party or through technical means (e.g. electronic fingerprints). As the Internet becomes more and more an environment of commerce, new technologies are being introduced to create new ways to deal with creating, or avoiding, full identification. Usually, the question arising from the struggle around this type of identity are framed in terms of privacy (e.g. control of personal data) and authentication (e.g. digital signatures). Schneier, Bruce. Biometrics: Uses and Abuses. Inside Risks 110, Communications of the ACM, vol 42, n 8, Aug 1999.

Somewhere in between these two extremes of the relationship between the informational pattern and the physical entity lies the concept of pseudonymity. A pseudonym is an identifier which makes it possible to create several parallel identities that allow identification of limited aspects of the person in a particular context but makes it impossible to create full identification across all contexts. Different Pseudonymous IDs can stand along side to one another, each identifying aspects of the same person, but unrelated to one another. A person can use several independent identifiers, each revealing truthfully certain aspects of her physical identity. The same person can be identified in one context as a person with AIDS and in another context as a qualified engineer looking for employment. Each informational segment strongly to creating an identity for the person, however, there might be good reasons for wanting to keep these two identities separate. Zero Knowledge
An artists who is active in several fields may choose to develop distinct identities to make it easier for the audience to assess his products. DJs, for example, routinely release material under several names, one for each style in which they create music. Effectively, they become known to different audiences as different artists, thus avoiding the distortion of the coherence of the informational pattern that is their identity. A distortion that would ensue by releasing overly heterogeneous material. For DJs, working under different names does not necessarily mean disguising who they are, but creating the freedom to experiment while maintaining easily recognizable identities. DJs and their pseudonyms
The inverse of one person creating several identities is several people creating one single informational identity. A Collective ID is a single coherent pattern that represents any number of people. The relationship between the collective identity and the individual identity can vary. In some cases, the Collective ID is dependent on particular individuals. A rock band, for example, usually survives only a limited number of line-up changes. In other cases, the informational pattern of a Collective ID can take on life of its own and become more or less independent of any individual member, though, of course, not of members as such. The football team AC Milan has a distinct identity which it maintains through a constantly changing line-up.
Each of the types of ID has very different dynamics in terms of stability and flexibility, each type is based on different technologies and embroiled in different political tensions and represents different cultural potentials. The Anonymous ID is highly flexible but intrinsically unstable. For an Anonymous ID stability is the seed of its own deconstruction because it is based on an internal contradiction. On the one hand, for an identity to emerge certain predictable patterns must be created. However, the clearer the patterns emerge, the more information they reveal about their creator(s). The richer the patterns become, the easier it becomes to identify the same pattern in a different context, one which, perhaps, makes it possible to identify the person(s) creating the pattern. Theodore Kaczynski, for example, kept his Anonymous ID, the Unabomber, for almost 17 years, but was identified after publishing a lengthy manifesto in the mass media. His brother recognized his particular pattern of argumentation and called the police. Effectively, any code can be cracked with sufficient attention, and the more famous an ID becomes, the more it focuses attention. For a hacker, then, fame is a double-edged sword. Equally for artists. Only very few noms des plumes have proven to be impenetrable. The most famous case is, perhaps, the person who maintains the identity of Thomas Pynchon. Although his or her novels are highly acclaimed and read around the world, the person who actually writes the books remains unknown. On the Internet a number of attempts try to seriously restrict the ease of using anonymous communication, both through legal means, for example by requiring services such as national versions of or to establish a Full ID for their users (as currently discussed in France) as well as through technological means (tracing). Thomas Pynchon
The Unabomber's Manifesto
A Full ID, on the other hand, is very stable but of limited flexibility. Particularly if such an ID is maintained by organizations that are built to create stability, for example, governmental organizations, then changes on that level become near impossible. The Internet has created additional limitations for people who are fully identified to reinvent themselves. Entered into searchable data bases are records of even casual communication. For example posts to an archived email list, or to a news group, can be accessed effortlessly for, possibly, a long time by anyone with even the most basic knowledge of search engines. The effects of this are largely unexplored. Nettrace: Finding people
More flexibility than the Full ID but more stability than Anonymous ID characterizes the Pseudonymous IDs. They are flexible in the sense that any number of such IDs can be created and exist parallel to the earlier versions. They are stable in the sense that they are not prone to the same internal contradiction as the Anonymous ID.
The type of ID that is the most stable and the most flexible at the same time is the Collective ID. It can take on any kind of form, since it need not, but can, represent identified individuals. On the other hand, since it can be independent of any particular person, or entity, it can be more stable than any of the (potentially changing) physical entities it depends on. Due to the potential of simultaneous flexibility and durability, it can take on any shape that is made possible by the particular configuration of communication technologies through which its patterns are created and maintained. Due to the high flexibility and stability and the still not yet fully explored possibilities of media spaces some of the most interesting and innovative experiments of cultural activists involve the creation of new shapes of collective IDs.
Digital Identity: two shapes
In the following, I want to look at two projects ­ the Luther Blissett Project and ®TMmark (pronounced art-mark) ­ in terms of how they use the particular characteristic of media spaces to create specific types of identity. Both projects are highly adapted to the environment of interactive media, and as these environments expand in scope, importance, and familiarity, I believe these types of identity will also become more and more common.
Context: Resources to Net.Art

  • References (Tilman Baumgaertel)
  • Metascene
  • Natalie Bookchin's History of
  • nettime Mailing List
  • Syndicate Mailing List
  • The Luther Blissett Project
    Luther Blissett is a British football star of Caribbean descent. He is currently coach of the football team in Watford, Ireland. In the early 1980s, he was one of the first black British athletes to play in the Italian Major League. However, he did not prosper there and after a disappointing season with AC Milan, he went back to England. His lack of success made him the target of racism from disappointed fans and the press, who ridiculed him as "Luther Missit". All in all, he played an unfortunate though rather minor role in the history of Italian football and is in no way involved in the project that bears his name.
    Luther Blissett plays in Italy.
    To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence that the name Luther Blissett was used by anyone other than this football player before the autumn of 1994. Since then Luther Blissett has appeared several hundred times, mostly in Italy but also in several other countries, he has developed a large Internet and mass media presence, published several books, became involved in court cases and was even fined for using public transport without valid tickets. "Official" Luther Blisset Site
    One of the first national appearances of Luther Blissett was in January 1995. "CHI L'HA VISTO?" (WHO HAS SEEN THEM?) is popular Italian family TV show with a particularly aggressive right-wing bent. Its searches for missing people, including runaway children and even draft dodgers. Alerted by reports in the local press, the show began to shoot an episode on the missing performance artist Harry Kipper who was said to cross Europe on his bike in a route in the shape of an "A". He was last seen in late 1994 in Northern Italy heading into Yugoslavia. In some of his performances, Kipper used the name Luther Blissett as a pseudonym. The TV crew went around to interview the people who had seem him last. It went to England where it was shown the house of Kipper. Shortly before the show was to be aired, it was revealed that Kipper and Blissett never existed and the episode had to be pulled off the air to the great embarrassment of the producers. This prank served a double purpose, first it demonstrated how easily the media are manipulated, and second, it introduced Luther Blissett as a figure that lives entirely in the media space. In one swift move, a myth was created and its roots cut. He became widely known as someone who doesn't exist.
    Luther Blissett is a media creature. He lives entirely in the media space. There is no group behind him, even though dozens of people have claimed to be Luther Blissett and hundreds, perhaps even thousands, have acted in his name. Luther Blissett, however, is not a group, he is a special case of a Collective ID. On one of the "official" sites of LB, one can find the following statement: "Luther Blissett is not a 'teamwork identity' as reported by the journalists; rather, it is a MULTIPLE SINGLE: the 'Luther Blissetts' don't exist, only Luther Blissett exist[s]. Today we can infuse ourselves with vitality by exploring any possibility of escaping the conventional identities." Luther Blissett
    Luther Blissett, in a sense, is a Memetic Identity. A meme is an idea that is passed from one human to another. It is the cultural equivalent of a gene, the basic element of biological inheritance. The term was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. The term itself is a contraction of memory and gene. Unlike a virus, which is encoded in DNA molecules, a meme is nothing more than a pattern of information, one that happens to have evolved a form which induces people to repeat that pattern. A contagious informational pattern that replicates by parasitically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. An idea or informational pattern is not a meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else. Memes spread as long there is some reason for them to be copied. Some because they are true or useful, others are copied because they are false, others, such as Luther Blissett, because they are neither true nor false, but a myth. Dawkins, Richard (1976). The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press

    Resource Website: Memes, cultural viruses

    Wilkins, J. S., 1998; What's in a Meme? Reflections from the perspective of the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission

    Blackmoore, Susan: Meme, Myself, I, New Scientist, March 13, 1999
    The prank of "CHI L'HA VISTO?" planted a meme, a pattern of information that could be used by anyone who thought it was useful for what s/he wanted to do. And many people thought it was a very positive identity to take on. Luther Blissett sightings started to become more frequent. On June 15, after the police had terminated a performance in a public bus in Rome, four people were arrested. Each of them claimed to be Luther Blissett. As an explanation of why they adopted the Luther Blissett name, Checchino Antonini, an editor at Radio Cittą Futura offered: "The group considers identity to be the prison of the self. Identity and fixity are the enemies of communication and have to be combated by nomadism and collective identity. When the conductor asked for their tickets, they replied that a collective identity does not travel with a ticket." Luther Blissett went on to write a number of books, two of them became bestsellers, one, published as essays of anarchist theorist Hakim Bey, was later revealed to be a fake written by Luther, the other, a historical novel called Q, was so highly acclaimed that people began to speculate that it was Umberto Eco who had written it. Blissett, Eco and "Q" (in italian)
    While Luther Blissett was also seen outside of Italy, this is where he became most notorious. One of the reasons for that is this media landscape is particularly suitable to sustain such an identity. In Italy there is much less a distinction between "serious" newspapers and "trashy" tabloids than in other European countries, partly because politics, crime news and gossip blend in one integrated spectacle, an eternal Watergate-like improvised scandal. Likewise, peculiar events in Italian history blurred the distinctions between "serious culture" and "popular culture" long before Post-modernism and Trash Culture became the talk of intellectuals.
    However, the media landscape is simply the environment which makes certain things more likely and others less. Luther Blissett, though made possible by the state of media in the late 1990s, draws from a number of much older sub-cultural sources: for example, from situationism and related movements. Consequently, one of the many apocryphal stories of why the name Luther Blissett came to be used involves Ray Johnson (1927-1995), founder and central agitator of the Mail Art movement. From an Italian correspondent Johnson once received a press cutting which mentioned him. On the reverse of that clipping was a piece on the national football league containing the sentence: "Even Luther Blissett would have scored such a goal!". And Johnson wrote back: "Who the hell is Luther Blissett?" Like anything surrounding a myth, truth is secondary. An introduction to Ray Johnson.

    Blissett on Ray Johnson
    While the Memetic Identity of Luther Blissett most prominently subverts the spaces of mass media, the Internet plays an important role in the spread of its pattern. The Internet is the ideal media environment for memes because they can move freely and quickly. As the Internet is set up at the moment, information, and memes, can travel without having to pass the gate keepers of the mass media, who, even if they can be subverted by elaborate pranks, still exert a certain control over the flow of information. Furthermore, the Internet, as an open interactive environment, is well suited for the cooperation of people who do not know one another. Its primarily horizontal and transnational structure offers the potential for autonomous, decentralized organization of informational patterns. The relative ease and privacy of communication on-line also facilitates the organization of real-life events which then are fed back, through the Internet or the mass media, into the information flows. These flows, though they are shaped by the characteristics of the environment in which they circulate, are not an independent reality but a distorted mirror of other levels of reality. The Internet can be used by independent groups to coordinate their actions inside and outside the networks, thus, effectively, recreating what is essentially informational pattern ­ LB ­ in the physical space ­ 4 people who are all LB standing in front of an judge in Rome. Before the advent of easily accessible communication media, the ability the mold the physical space according to informational flows has been the privilege of large organizations have relied on streams of mediated information for a long time.
    A memetic identity has several defining "limitations". First, it needs a host. Without someone or something willing to replicate the pattern, it remains inactive. If everyone loses interest in Luther Blissett, then the informational pattern disappears. It needs to be constantly recreated to stay visible. Second, as a pattern, it needs a certain degree of internal coherence. If suddenly too many different people start to appropriate the identity for radically different ends, the pattern would start to get distorted, in the extreme case, to a degree where it can no longer be recognized. The pattern disappears into randomness, losing its usefulness, and thus its ability to propagate. On the other hand, as pattern than needs a host to be activated, it needs to be flexible enough to be of use in different contexts. If it authoritatively defined what it is and under what circumstances it could be used, it would loose its ability to "infect" different hosts in different places. It can no longer propagate. Any authoritative version of Luther Blissett would be the end of its enormous power to infect, that is inspire, people. Consequently, even the semi-official website starts out with: "This could be a fake, although a very nice one!".
    ®TMmark's name is a pun on registered (®) trade mark () and art. Legally, ®TMmark is a for-profit corporate entity. It is a business, founded in 1991 and based in New York City. Its area of activity could be called "cultural sabotage" and the profits it seeks are cultural: the change of the social environment in which we live. ®TMmark aims to yield dividends in form of published media reports of the work it sponsors. As a corporate entity, it benefits from "limited liability" just like any other, which gives it the freedom to act as a brokerage firm for such sabotage. The sabotage it brokers is not so much the outright destruction of property but a symbolic one: the informative alteration of corporate products to expose their hidden messages.
    One of the first projects of ®TMmark that yielded the envisioned dividends was carried out in 1993 by a group called Barbie Liberation Organization. This group had acquired 300 G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls, switched their voice boxes and placed them back into the stores. Unsuspecting consumers who bought the altered dolls suddenly had a sparkling Barbie huskily intoning, "Dead men tell no lies", while a combat-ready Joe squealed, "Want to go shopping?" The goals of the project were to question stereotypes built into dolls by switching gender roles. Consumers were at first confused, but then amused (hardly any dolls were returned); Mattel, the company that manufactures the dolls, was outraged nevertheless; and the media loved it (Derry, 1994). The idea for the action came from an electronic bulletin board (bbs) operated by ®TMmark, which also provided the necessary funds to carry it out. THE BARBIE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION

    Derry, Mark (1994). Hacking Barbie's Voice Box:'Vengeance is Mine!'. New Media, "Technoculture" (May)
    A similar business deal was achieved in 1996 with a programmer who worked at the computer-software company Maxis, which produced a game called SimCopter, a shooting game similar to DOOM, but with particularly macho overtones. If the player was successful a barely dressed babe would come up to the player's screen character and kiss him as a gratification ­ a smacking sound included. In one version, however, several scenes had been altered and instead of a hot babe, macho fighter would come up for a kiss. The manufacturer of SimCopter, Maxis Inc., discovered the programmer's provocative hack only after more than 50,000 copies of the game had been shipped. The company was outraged, it immediately fired the programmer responsible for the alteration, but the media loved it. Again, the idea came from an ®TMmark bbs and the business plan also included the compensation of the worker who got fired. Silberman, Steve (1996) Boy 'Bimbos' Too Much for Game-Maker Maxis. Wired News (3.12.)
    ®TMmark is a brokerage firm, and like any other brokerage firm, its main function is to bring together different parties. Like a venture capital firm, it connects ideas to people who can bring them to life, and raises the necessary means. In the first half decade of the company's existence, the platform through which it aimed to establish these kinds of links were electronic bulletin boards, but while the system worked, as the various successfully completed projects show, it worked very slowly and was encumbered by the difficulty of reaching the necessary number of people. As ®TMmark explains: "We started in '91 with a dial-in bbs, and we didn't use to publicize ourselves except by word of mouth. We acted like anarchists, all hush-hush and earnest. We had this elaborate system for checking out potential new saboteurs, and we only let a few people have access to the bbs." Consequently, ®TMmark had a very low profile, a bad thing for a fledgling brokerage firm. Email Interview with ®TMmark by Joab Jackson
    This changed in 1997, when ®TMmark went above ground and opened an Internet website. Like any company, its website sports a logo, a distinct corporate identity, a company slogan ­ currently: corporate consulting for the 21st century ­, sound bytes and products. The products are called "mutual funds". They perform much the same function as their financial counterparts: by facilitating investment based on general areas of interest, they allow investors to participate in what is essentially unpredictable behavior without the need to fully understand its nature or to become too deeply involved. A typical mutual fund starts out as an idea for a project, seeking both qualified people and investors interested in the dividend, coverage in the mass media and, perhaps, a change in corporate culture. The mutual funds model
    The mutual funds vary considerably in the skill and investment necessary. But most of them are focussed on what one could call "semiotic subversion". They are non-violent, they are focussed on the level of symbols ­ the changing of code to reveal its subtext ­ and they work as direct experience, rather than theoretical analyses.
    However, most of the projects are not carried out by ®TMmark itself. Its role is most often limited to that of a broker, raising money, propagating the ideas, bringing people in contact with one another. It works as a middleman, or, more precisely, as an interface. In a technical sense, an interface is a shared boundary where two or more systems ­ people, institutions, machines ­ meet. For ®TMmark these are the various parties necessary for successful completion of a project. Like all interfaces its purpose is to facilitate this communication in order to accomplish something as effectively as possible. Like an interface it is only as good as what it connects. If there is nothing on one side or the other, then the best interface is helpless. But for ®TMmark there is a lot on both side. People with money willing to invest, a resilient discontent with corporate culture, a well-known practice of "culture jamming" disgruntled workers, and media eager for scandalous stories. ®TMmark could not work outside this particular American context. Adbusters
    An interface, of course, is not passive. A well designed interface can make things possible that a poorly designed interface could not, and by making things possible, the interface changes what is on both sides. Thus, the interface is the place where communication is shaped, because it translates, and thus shapes, one thing into another, an intention into an action. The way this translation takes place is highly influential for the quality of the translated. Like any interface, it has a double character. It reveals certain things, those that the designer chooses to highlight in order to create the functionality, but it hides away all the rest, which are made invisible so as to not distort the clarity of the interface. The entire complexity of a program or a machine can be reduced to a few buttons. These buttons channel the interaction with or through the machine or program Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (1997) on the Graphical User Interface
    ®TMmark has perfected its identity as an interface. Its surface is highly polished and its inner workings are hidden. ®TMmark, through its website, is highly visible, but it is not published who ®TMmark is. It is not anonymous, ®TMmark operates through spokespersons who are a kind of human interface. They are messengers, not the author of the message. A spokesperson speaks for someone else who is absent. Consequently, one could call what ®TMmark is establishing an Interface Identity. It serves as a highly visible conduit for ideas which, for the most part, come from outside itself and which are carried out through money and labour that it raises through the parties it connects.
    The Internet is the ideal media environment for an interface identity. The more complex and flexible the connection between different elements are, the more important the role of the interface in channeling them. On-line, the potentials for connections are endless and consequently, the need for interfaces that help to establish these connection is higher than ever. For an interface it is essential to define precisely what should be connected and establish these connections efficiently. The clearer both aspects of the interface are defined, the stronger its identity emerges.
    Identity in media environments
    Identity is meta-information. It is made up of huge amounts of information which can be assessed very quickly as a interconnected pattern. It offers a condensed form that is essential in media environments characterized by information overload, that is, by more information available that can ever be absorbed by anyone. Identity as an informational pattern, then, allows one to deal with this overload by reducing the amounts of information necessary to assess the character of an entity. Without an informational identity entities ­ people, institutions, projects ­ become undetectable in the noise of the ever rushing information streams, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The specific character of these information streams on-line makes it possible to construct new patterns, or to raise already existing patterns to a higher prominence. Two of these new patterns have been discussed one as Mimetic Identity and the other as Interface Identity. What the contents of these identities are, however, is not determined by the media environment. Both the Luther Blissett Project and ®TMmark work within specific cultural contexts from which they take the content of their specific identity. Without those roots, their identities would remain hollow, a mere media construction. It is their grounding in real lived (counter)culture which makes them interesting, it is the media environment in which they are established that gives them a particular shape and potential.
    Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community