The Presentation of Self on a Decentralised Web: A PhD thesis about self-presentation in future online spaces
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The Presentation of Self on a Decentralised Web

This is my PhD thesis, conducted between 2012 and 2017, in the Center for Intelligent Systems and their Applications (CISA), School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. I'm writing it in public to stretch ideas about Open Science a little bit, as well as to support and experiment with Linked Research ideas and technologies.

Current status: GRADUATED 2017-11-30.

Issues always welcome. Please cluster issues that are minor/typos. Small typo fixes also welcome as PRs.


  • Living version: branch gh-pages - subject to ongoing updates
  • Submitted version: frozen on branch submitted
  • Final printed version after corrections: frozen on branch printed



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. I 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. I 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, I examine what might change as we move towards decentralisation; how people could be affected, and what the possibilities are for a positive change. Finally I 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.

I 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.


It was a page-turner.

- Dave de Roure (external examiner)

..inspired me enormously...

- Herbert van de Sompel (twitter bystander)

Good, yes.

- Mark Hartswood (internal examiner)


- Ewan Klein (supervisor)

How am I supposed to bind this it's too big

- Sergio Gonzalez (handled physical submission process because I was in Malaysia)

What's the technical secret sauce?

- Dave Robertson (lesser-spotted second supervisor)

A pass, subject to minor corrections.

- Dave de Roure (external examiner)

Shall we go for lunch?

- Mark Hartswood (internal examiner)