The Presentation of Self on a Decentralised Web


Even though my deadline is coming up fast, I still have a lot of work to do on this thesis. I am, and have been from the start, doing this in the open; my thesis is in a public GitHub repo, and you can see it at (aspirational URL which redirects to github pages). Lots of pieces are still to be written, so don't expect a coherent start-to-finish reading experience. With that in mind, feedback and suggestions are welcome in the form of issues; but unless you're my supervisor or someone who knows for a fact I take your opinions on this topic seriously, they might not receive a ton of attention :)


Self presentation is evolving; with digital technologies, with the Web and personal publishing, and then with mainstream adoption of online social media. Where are we going next? One possibility is towards a world where we log and own vast amounts of data about ourselves. We choose to share - or not - the data as part of our identity, and in interactions with others; it contributes to our day-to-day personhood or sense of self. We imagine a world where the individual is empowered by their digital traces (not imprisoned), but this is a complex world.

This thesis examines the many factors at play when we present ourselves through Web technologies. We optimistically look to a future where control over our digital identities are not in the hands of centralised actors, but our own, and both survey and contribute to the ongoing technical work which strives to make this a reality. Decentralisation changes things in unexpected ways. In the context of the bigger picture of our online selves, building on what we already know about self-presentation from decades of Social Science research, we examine what might change as we move towards decentralisation; how people could be affected, and what the possibilities are for a positive change. Finally we explore one possible way of self-presentation on a decentralised social Web through lightweight controls which allow an audience to set their expectations in order for the subject to meet them appropriately.

We seek to acknowledge the multifaceted, complicated, messy, socially-shaped nature of the self in a way that makes sense to software developers. Technology may always fall short when dealing with humanness, but the framework outlined in this thesis can provide a foundation for more easily considering all of the factors surrounding individual self-presentation in order to build future systems which empower participants.


  1. Introduction
  2. The Presentation of Self Online

    Evolution of presentation of self; social science and social media studies literature. Starring danah boyd, danah boyd, Erving Goffman, and danah boyd.

  3. Social Semantics

    Some studies on contemporary practices of online self-presentation, starring Max and Dave (A++++ would coauthor again), TomSka and other YouTubers, and the Indieweb. Named for Harry Halpin's thesis/book which made me think a lot.

  4. Decentralising the Social Web, and other stories

    A possible future - decentralisation and the technologies to get us there. Starring the W3C Social Web WG.

  5. Standards for the Social Web

    How these technologies affect self-presentation; how does the big picture change? One idea and its implementation. Starring the Social Web Protocols and sloph, both things I was originally doing to procrastinate from thesis work.

  6. Conclusions

    // TODO lol

🏷 abstract decentralisation phd social web thesis