When Explaining SSI, Start with the Wallet

SSI is like a physical wallet, but digital. It holds strong digital credentials given to you by orgs you deal with — digital versions of the same physical credentials you already have — that you can choose to share with others. Unlike an Apple or proprietary wallet, no one else can see it, change it, or take it away; the wallet and credentials inside are yours, and you can move them off your device or from device to device.

  • It starts out empty
  • The wallet is mine and remains in my possession; no one can see it, change it or take it away without my consent
  • I can fill it with the things I choose
  • I can add different types of things: ID cards, payment cards, membership cards, loyalty cards, key cards, cash, receipts, photos, and more
  • Most things I put in my wallet are issued to me by third parties; they can revoke validity, but I retain control of the artifact
  • I choose what I share with whom, without sharing anything else
  • Wallet contents remain concealed until I choose to reveal something
  • If I lose an important credential, I must return to the issuer, prove my identity and ask them to re-issue to me
  • My wallet is portable with me everywhere I go
  • If I don’t like my wallet I can get a different one and transfer my contents; the contents are portable
  • I don’t usually make my own wallet, I obtain it from those who make wallets
  • Wallet makers cannot see, change, or take away my wallet contents without my consent
  • If my wallet is stolen, the thief can’t drain my entire net worth, there are limits to what thieves can get away with: there’s only so much cash, the cards have limits, they’ll soon be shut off, etc.
  • I shouldn’t carry around too many valuables at one time
  • I must be careful with my wallet, keep it secure
  • Avoiding the confusion, controversy and related rabbit holes around the concept of identity
  • Avoiding the misconception that SSI means self-attested
  • Avoiding the misconception that SSI somehow challenges authority
  • It logically organizes the discussion of use cases — including identity, which becomes a preeminent use case — because use cases typically begin with a credential or credentials being received from an issuer.

Start with the digital wallet, then receive a digital student ID from the university, then a skill certification badge, then a digital key to the laboratory, then a digital ticket to the game, then a digital receipt for buying food, and so on. Anyone can understand that. Starting with the wallet is a much easier conversation than starting with the student ID or digital key use case, and then working backward.

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