In this paper we present the thesis that digital signatures failed to meet the expectations set in their success because of a "cultural gap". This "cultural gap" exists between the needs of the people living in cyberspace and the assumptions of the advocates of digital signatures. In our research we try to identify this "cultural gap". Therefor we investigate different areas of technology-based social interaction with and without authentication and identification.
We discuss three case studies from our recent research: The Japanese culture of seals; The role of seals and signatures in the Middle Ages. Following the historical description of the means and constraints of identification and authentication we make the step into the cyberspace and discuss the needs of identification and authentication in the virtual world with the example of ‘ebay’.
We go further and show new directions in governing legal identities in the cyberspace. Our summary goes that the use of digital signatures makes sense - in some contexts. Other contexts of human activities in the cyberspace simply don’t need strong authentication in the way digital signatures provide it: A well-tempered risk management strategy within an selfregulated environment does the job and allows people to cooperate successful.