Self-Sovereign Identity: Making the Ecosystem REAL

In my never-ending questing to express simply what we are trying to create for the digital identity ecosystem, I have created, with the help of my Twitter followers, this simple table below:

(Describing from left to right) The overall ecosystem depends on two types of trust:

  • Human Trust How we trust each other as individual human beings, participants in larger social orders, formal institutions and governments. This type of human trust existed before the ecosystem we are trying to create and will always be a part of it. Without human trust, we have nothing.
  • Cryptographic Trust What was once done by means of clay, parchment, and paper is now done by digital. The mechanisms of how we trust each other through digital means are largely due to cryptography to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and control. Without cryptography, we’d still be using paper (maybe clay and parchment, too)

The second column describes the specific layers:

  • Rules. The rules that we make between humans for us to abide by. These rules can be the result of social norms (social contract), legal constructs, policy directives, or guidelines to follow. So long as everyone knows the rules and how they are applied fairly, human trust is engendered.
  • Exchanges. The function of markets, and social interactions flow freely as a result of the rules put in place. Clear rules, followed by predictable, worry-free transactions, enable us to go about our daily lives without a second thought to many things that are unseen but are crucial to us.
  • Agents. We are principals, but there are many things, or agents, that act on our behalf — other people, institutions, machines, and processes.
  • Ledger. Finally, there is a system of record somewhere. For accounting, recordkeeping purposes, but more importantly to support repudiation and rights.


Trusted Processes, governed by frameworks such as the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework.

  • Governance Frameworks The rules by which everyone must abide by.
  • Credential Exchange The things by which we exchange beliefs, facts and value (tangible, intangible, fungible and non-fungible)

Global Utilities, enabled by platform frameworks such as the Sovrin Trust Framework

  • Agent-to-Agent Protocols Digital wallets, exchanges, and recovery services acting on our behalf.
  • Ledgers The system of record that maintain accounts and proofs

Finally, an easy way to remember this all, is using the acronym REAL (Rules, Exchange, Agents, Ledger) — making the ecosystem ‘REAL’!

For reference, I’ve added the four-layer model being proposed by Sovrin (thanks to Drummond Reed Phil Windley )

Based in Ottawa. Does identity stuff. My tweets are my opinion but they can be yours too!

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