Re: The "self-sovereign" problem (was: The SSI protocols challenge)

I know folks on this list love to be precise in their language... ah, gotta
love the engineer's mind. But I want to provide a futurist/poet's

As Manu wrote, and many of us know first-hand, there are socio-cultural
issues with the term "self-sovereign." It has baggage specifically from a
western individualist libertarian perspective. Some people use
"self-sovereign" with these assumptions attached, others fight against
those assumptions. The general business consensus is that that term
(self-sovereign) is too charged, and the interpretations people bring to
it, get in the way of communicating the benefits. (See Microsoft's first
whitepaper using Decentralized Identity & aside: I would have changed the
title of the Comprehensive Guide to SSI but it was already out there in the

"Decentralized identity" is a *better* choice. Others use "self-asserted,"
I think this has some of the same socio-cultural issues that
"Self-sovereign" has. (I did a survey asking specifically this question
about a year ago, but I have not done a detailed data analysis, so these
are off the cuff comments.) IMHO, the term that will describe the
technology we are creating (SSI/DI/SA/DIDs/VCs) hasn't been coined yet. And
even more controversial, I doubt it will be coined by anyone in this
community or an early adopter.

Why? Because we are swimming in a world of biases - biases because we are
co-creators of the vision and technology of SSI. And we are hyper technical
in this community, which is not reflective of society at large.

I don't think this is really a big deal. Use whichever term you like with
the appropriate caveats until the defining term comes along. Maybe take a
moment to get real with yourself on why you like that particular term. A
lot of people like the unconscious/challenging authority attributions of
"self sovereign."

IMHO, making what we are doing/creating in this community more accessible
to outsiders, with their fresh view unadulterated by our years of
philosophical discussion is what will give us clarity on the potential
impact of our work here - which may lead to a better socio-cultural verbal


On Mon, Mar 22, 2021 at 9:22 AM victorsyntez <> wrote:

> +100  to this perspective, especially #3. Many Asian countries and a
> number of European countries consider community stability more important
> than individual freedoms. We can't expect them to agree with the notion
> that privacy and self-sovereignity of the digital identity is more
> important that government oversight of the digital identity.
> Victor.
> Sent from my Galaxy
> -------- Original message --------
> From: Manu Sporny <>
> Date: 2021-03-22 6:32 a.m. (GMT-08:00)
> To:
> Subject: The "self-sovereign" problem (was: The SSI protocols challenge)
> On 3/21/21 11:57 PM, Adrian Gropper wrote:
> > Are we, as a community, being shy in using self-sovereign to describe
> our
> > perspective?
> My response below is for people that feel like the question above has an
> easy
> answer. I expect the following to be misconstrued or quoted out of context,
> which is sad, but here goes; everything below is said without any value
> judgements.
> Remember that not all nations and people of the world view
> "self-sovereign" as
> a purely positive thing. I'm not shy about using it, just very careful, and
> tend to avoid it as it tends to distract focused conversations.
> To speak to at least three overly-broad categories, self-sovereign is not
> viewed as an entirely positive thing among:
> 1. Authoritarian-leaning groups.
> 2. Non-authoritarian sovereign governments.
> 3. Non-western societies where the importance of the
>    individual is not placed above the importance
>    of the community.
> I don't think that anyone is here to support #1 above. #2 and #3 are why I
> tend to be careful about using the word "self-sovereign". It's useful when
> speaking to others that understand the nuance. It can be thoroughly
> confusing
> or shut down conversations with those that don't... and even when educated
> about the nuances, the message doesn't land well with the latter two
> groups.
> I end up doing far more damage control when the word "self-sovereign" is
> included than if I just stick to "verifiable credentials and decentralized
> identifiers".
> -- manu
> --
> Manu Sporny -
> Founder/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
> blog: Veres One Decentralized Identifier Blockchain Launches

Heather Vescent <>
Co-Chair, Credentials Community Group @W3C
President, The Purple Tornado, Inc <>
Author, The Secret of Spies <> (Available Oct 2020)
Author, The Cyber Attack Survival Manual
Dec 2020)
Author, A Comprehensive Guide to Self Sovereign Identity

@heathervescent <> | Film Futures
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Received on Monday, 22 March 2021 18:34:49 UTC