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Relying Party: Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

The recent Internet Identity Workshop ended on a high note with many of the participants saying it was one of the best identity events in years. While there many moments of discovery, I had a vaguely uncomfortable feeling about the discussion. In that respect, my feeling was not in sync with the general mood.

I had the opportunity to chat with Kevin Marks, David Recordon and Steve Gillmor about the state of the “Open Stack” and the overall roadmap for OpenID. You can view the conversation on TechCrunchIT. Kevin does a great job of advocating for the Agile / Extreme Programming approach to engineering an open standards approach to “identity.” His approach advocates building the smallest useful piece in an open standard that can inter-operate with the other parts of the open stack. Kevin uses the elegant phrase: “the pieces become composable.” A software engineering project can use the parts that make sense for the task at hand.

While building the “smallest useful piece” allows one to focus on a “do-able task” within the large primordial soup of identity, it does need to unfold within a general roadmap to really be considered “useful.” Recordon offered the observation that no company wants to reveal its product roadmaps. I imagine steps that don’t betray direction.

Becoming an OpenID provider doesn’t really change the status quo. It gives millions of users an OpenID, but not many of them know what that means. Smaller websites becoming relying parties doesn’t change the balance of power. Is the destination a world wide web where I can use my Microsoft credentials to log in to Google? Will we arrive at a place where any credential set can be offered up at any website for the purpose of user authentication. Many small websites are becoming relying parties, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Users rejected the idea of a single platform providing an identity model for the entire Network. Reviewing the goals and objectives of Hailstorm, it shows a strong resonance with today’s Identity community.

“HailStorm” is designed to place individuals at the center of their computing experience and take control over the technology in their lives and better protect the privacy of their personal information. “HailStorm” services will allow unprecedented collaboration and integration between the users’ devices, their software and their personal data. With “HailStorm”, users will have even greater and more specific control over what people, businesses and technologies have access to their personal information.

“HailStorm” technologies help simplify the way people use technology. Instead of concentrating around a specific device, application, service or network, “HailStorm” services are oriented around people. They give users control of their own data and information, protecting personal information and requiring the consent of the individual with respect to who can access the information, what they can do with it and how long they have that permission to do so.

There’s a sense in which the Open Standards Identity Stack is trying to recreate Mark Lucovsky and Bob Muglia’s vision with composable parts. At the time, no one could parse the language coming out of Microsoft. The concepts couldn’t bridge the gap in trust, and perhaps it was the wrong architecture in which to build that vision. Perhaps Live Mesh will fair better than Hailstorm, this time Microsoft is more in tune with the ocean in which it swims and has embraced the ideas of Open Standards and composable parts within the Network.

The current Identity movement thrives on the ambiguity of the concept. There’s a lot of room to move and therefore a lot of terrain to discover. The more I think about Identity, the more the concept of Difference forces its way into the conversation. Perhaps we call it entropy, change or time; but Differance is at the core of what we call life. And even Identity has Difference hidden within its shadows. The depth of identity does not reside with the proposition A = A; but rather in the idea that A is A. “A” is the “A” that flows through the real-time stream and is utterly changed and somehow still the same.


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