The Web *Needs* an ID Hub…

Marc Canter’s lengthy post on his ID Hub concept really struck a chord with me today. He so completely sees the deluge of digital offerings, the chaos it is creating, and understands to his core that aggregating all of it together must happen. It’s the basis of his company and primary offering.

Any of us who’ve ever sent someone a vCard understands the power of a standard file format exported from a PC address book and it’s not too big of a leap then to understand a microformat (like the hCard microformat) and what these could bring to the Web. Haven’t you also had the experience of walking into medical appointment and having to fill out the same damn forms again-n-again and wondered if there might be a better way of maintaining ONE version of your truth so you could provide controlled access to it!?! Me too…but I’m also experiencing profile fatigue as I join site after site after site filling out the same crap over-n-over again (and then forgetting to keep ’em all updated!).

Marc doesn’t just focus on that sort of mundane name, address, phone-type data, he GETS that an ID Hub is all about what you can DO with that data and says, “The end game here are VERBS!  Actions!”  I’m paraphrasing, but what riled him up to post about the ID Hub was a premise another blogger had that federated identity would mean people wouldn’t “invest” in a particular social hub thus it would be stillborn.

Not true and, in fact, the opposite is true. People are going to stop joining new social sites pretty quickly since they’ll be just as pissed off at filling out YASSP (yet another social site profile) and wish that they could just push a button and auto-fill the damn thing. Without the ability to self-federate portions of our own centralized identity, there will be a point where new social sites will automatically be dead on arrival. Super-simple joining will mean people will register quickly and then we’ll get past the bullshit numbers we all see when sites must focus on “active members” vs. “numbers of registrants”.

Since we all have multiple affinities (e.g., husband, father, geek, member of the gun club, model railroader, volunteer, et al) many of us already belong to multiple affinity groups. The same slicing-n-dicing of social-site-types will inevitably occur as social networking matures and federated identity will make it easier to engage in these sites and also easier for people site-to-site to engage with one another thus accelerating growth.

Back to “VERBS!” and “Actions!”.  What if you were in the market for, say, a digital SLR camera. You don’t own any lenses and so you could go either Canon or Nikon. You put out a request for quote (RFQ) into a marketplace and it would have your ID Hub number alias affixed to it. The vendor looks up your ID number and verifies your ability to buy, predict that your net worth and past technology purchases indicate a high probability that you’ll buy lots of lenses, and the vendor then competes hard for your business.

THAT is how I view “VERBS!” and “Actions!” with my own ID Hub data and THAT is what the promise of a robust ID Hub might provide…besides all the happiness that would ensue when we didn’t have to fill out redundant forms!

OpenID, Liberty Alliance, Cardspace and even the Sxip approach are all interesting for delivering an ID Hub. But the problem isn’t just a technology one. It’s a core, fundamental one: trust.

Any commercial enterprise be they Microsoft, Sun, Intel, IBM or whomever have one goal in mind: profits (and yes, profits are good). If technological and data lock-in can occur and give any technology leader a competitive advantage and high gross margins, it will happen. But creating a single approach to a trusted, secure, functional ID Hub has to be a cross-industry, cross-functional, multi-technology approach and the management of it in the hands of those willing to manage it transparently.

Is that an industry alliance? Maybe…but the participants are all jockeying for position to see who can steer the direction and technology toward one that’ll provide them with competitive advantage. How about government then? Sadly, the last 7 years of the Bush Administration have proven that rich, core, deep datasets in a single repository would make their datamining and intrustions all the easier and a cross-governmental approach would see the same jockeying for position that the commercial enterprises perform…only this time for country-centric control.

How about owned and managed by Marc Canter? Maybe if you knew Marc you’d give him all your data…but I don’t and I won’t.

So what is the answer? It needs to be an open source approach. The ID Hub must be transparent as to approach and technology while secure and completely encrypted and private with respect to our data. I need

Marc’s post had this incredibly salient point toward the end that needs to be emphasized:

We feel that until closed systems enable their end-users to move THEIR data around, the war isn’t over.  We feel that the ONLY way to think about social networking – is in an inter-connected mesh of smaller, distributed, decentralized networks.

Absolutely. If people can’t throw themselves in an “ID box” and take that box with them from site-to-site, the social networking movement will slow waaaay down.

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1 Comment

  1. Chris Douglass on February 2, 2007 at 11:06 am

    again, interesting article. watch for my upcoming product release:

    myEddressBook – “Get Connected. Stay Connected.”(TM)

    we’ll see how it goes but i have some interesting solutions to some of the problems you’ve outlined. i’ll keep you in the loop. maybe you want to do some alpha testing?

    keep up the good work.



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