Oct 15, 2003
Comments Off on digital id – top down or bottom up?

digital id – top down or bottom up?

As I get ready for Digital ID World I have been thinking about identity and what has transpired between the first Digital ID World last year and now. The short answer is very little. Or at least not as much as I had hoped.

Now a caveat. Andre and Eric have done a great job in a number of ways. The conference itself is a successful venture. No small feat these days. They are a force for good inside the world of federated identity and they have a clarity of vision that I can only describe as insightful with respect to identity as it relates to commerce. I also must note that they have made huge progress in the whole area of federated identity through the main Source ID venture.

Despite all of this, my gut says that things will evolve very differently. My thoughts on this first crystallized in a discussion I had with Eric at PC Forum in March. Eric and I were discussing top-down vs. bottom-up identity and the whys and wherefores. I need to lay out a few assumptions that underpin my thoughts. They are as follows:

– Applications will drive adoption of identity;

– There are two broad categories of applications, commerce and communications. Think of commerce as reserving a plane ticket online. Think of communications as posting a comment on a blog;

– The identity tools that have the largest install base will end up becoming the de facto standard; and

– The more lightweight the approach the faster and broader the adoption.

We all (Eric and I and everyone at the conference last year and the concierge and…..) agree on the first point. The second is one of my construction. The third and fourth all have so many examples in the history of the Internet going all the way back to SMTP vs. x.500 that I will ask that we take judicial notice of them (ironically one of the few exceptions to the third and fourth points is the world of IM where Andre obviously has a wealth of experience. Coincidence? :-)).

I believe when one looks at those four points together it becomes clear(er), or at least it does to me, that it will be communications applications that drive broad-based adoption of real identity tools. I must stress that the two tracks are far from mutually exclusive and the types of remediation services that Andre and Eric envision in the Source ID world will be absolutely necessary, BUT they will, IMHO only be of value once a lightweight identity standard has emerged from communications applications driving broad adoption.

My early bet is on some of Dave Sifry's stuff that we at Tucows are supporting in blogware

I think this is good news for users and for the Internet more broadly. This certainly implies user-centric identity to me and all that goes along with it.


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