Four Pillars: Identity: Please flame this post

There continues to be movement in the microformats meets identity space. Doc Searls’s IT Garage recently had a piece on MicroID; comments and conversations took me to Claimid as well; so the space which I always associate with Subterranean Homesick Hardt is beginning to get busier.

As with search and with syndication, we can get as technical about it as we want, and there are many places you can go to for the technical bits. Not here, I’m afraid. I still want to get through some first-principle thoughts, get some things clear in my head. Part of why I blog is to articulate nascent thoughts and opensource them in order to improve them.
Apologies if all this sounds like going over someone else’s well-trodden ground; it is exactly that; but I have found that many of these debates founder on semantics and terminology and definitions, and as a result I prefer a first-things-first approach. Please feel free to criticise or trash it. [In fact I would expect this post to attract more flames than any other I’ve done -) ]
The identity debate seems to encompass many disparate things, either directly or indirectly, so I’m going to just list them to begin with:

  • Ecce Homo: A means of identifying who I am, with some other relatively static data, eminently suitable for “microformat” treatment, and probably needing to be combined with some other way of confirming who I am, “two-factor authentication”. Like having a card and a PIN or signature. This is as permanent as can be, a metaphorical passport or fingerprint or iris pattern or whatever. This probably includes all the numerical tags I collect like frequent flyer and affinity memberships. It can include my credit cards and accounts. It is the same regardless of the specific relational or transactional conversation I happen to be in. My gut feel is that each person should have only one of these, and that it should be “small but perfectly formed”. And that it has to exist and be verifiable in a dotorg state.
  • Letters of Intent: A means of letting people know about my intentions, what I’m interested in or looking for. I make known my preferences and interests. Some of them are temporary, some of them are permanent. I choose who I want to tell. As in Doc looking for rental cars. As in my signalling to individuals in my social network that I will be within n miles of where they are at a given time. My information. Signalled to whom I want to. When and where I want to. Giving the listener an opportunity to converse with me and relate to me. Even things like are variants of this.
  • Tell them Phil sent ya: A way of associating other people’s perceptions of me with me, both qualitative as well as quantitative. This is trust that I can acquire but not control. Ratings I have, whether credit or eBay or college scores or whatever. Variable over time. Not suppressible by me. But challengeable by me, so that dispute or contention can be flagged. I may have many such ratings, used for different purposes, but inspectable at the behest of the requestor. And changed as a result of the conversation.
  • Trust me, I’m a doctor: A way of telling other people my own perception of me. Kitemarking my sites and blogs and articles and photos and quotes and whatever. Here what I am doing is endorsing stuff in the public domain about me, indicating (a) this came from me or (b) even though it does not come from me, I nevertheless approve it, I endorse it. This is like a great seal, a way of stamping that something is Orl Korrect. Or that Kilroy was Here.
  • My name is Bond, James Bond: A licence to do something. Granted by someone else. Usually not transferable. Usually not permanent either.
  • Come up and see my etchings: My choosing to expose things I have done, expired and executed letters of intent. Pictures of my activity with others. Kiss-and-tell. My information. My choice as to whom I share it with. And I can make this choice single-use or temporary or permanent. Probably even includes financial transactions and medical history.

These things by themselves are not complicated. They become complicated when people try to lock you in, to their walled gardens, their products, their platforms, their parlours. Everything here is a key to something.

And the tendency of the walled-gardeners is to force these keys to behave as if they were physical. And we need to move into the 21st century and push back. Hard. Like we had to push back on being able to choose our PINs and change them. Like we had to push back on being able to keep our phone numbers regardless of carrier or provider. Can you imagine a mail provider telling you that you couldn’t redirect mail either from or to the mail account they provide to you?

And intuitively (I may be completely wrong here) I think that the trick is to keep each of these pieces small and loosely joined a la Weinberger meets Hardt meets Sifry while Searls referees. As soon as we try to architect a humongous reference model we lose, because it’s a bit like industry standards bodies. Before you know it they get packed with people who have different agendas and the time and energy to deflect you ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

I’m also hunching that we need to prevent anyone owning this. That this whole space has to be opensource. Otherwise it will become a corrupt core.

Everything we believe is possible in terms of collaboration and co-creation and innovation at the edge, everything in my four pillars,  needs this problem to be solved.

3 thoughts on “Four Pillars: Identity: Please flame this post”

  1. I found your blog through the blog of Vinnie Mirchandani — good to see — I blog for much the same reason

    I think the bulk of your work here is on track — one criticism I have had with CIOs in the past decade is that so few seemed to be “market farmers”, or understand what it requires to foster healthy competition, innovation, and sustainability for their own investments. Of course notable exceptions exist, and consolidation isn’t controlled by CIOs — all the more reason for higher level strategy from customers.

    The only issue I would raise here is that there does seem to be some confusion between the standards and open source. Open source has an agenda too, and it’s not always in the best interest of customers or the greater economy. I was one who coached groups back in the mid 90s on what they needed to do in order to pierce the enterprise market — at the time I didn’t see any short term alternative for competition — governments certainly weren’t acting in a responsible manner on regulation.

    However, in the long-term, I have come to the conclusion that universal standards are necessary to prevent just what you correctly fear — while it’s true that standards bodies have challenges — one being terribly slow — another is having a business model that relies not on CIOs, but on vendors primarily — so I often suggest to enterprise customers that they need to take a more proactive approach in standards.

    Essentially we have a utility now in networked computing — as with any other utility, it’s unacceptable for anyone to own the threads in plumbing or the plug ins — proprietary systems are fine for applications (electrical appliances), but not public transactions. That is simply setting up the same type of failed self regulatory situation we saw in finance leading to the crisis.

    High end software programming is near the top of human intellectual capital. We don’t want to erode the incentives or do away with compensation for external innovators — indeed I think it’s important that they work for the customer rather than any other agenda. After all the customers don’t give their products away for free– it requires income to keep interests aligned, and there is also the issue of internal conflicts within the IT departments in some organizations — in the government for example I have seen open source simply used as another excuse to grow the empire — not the mission of the organizations– and no one has a more important responsibility than farming markets than the government. .02

    Thanks for the blog.

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