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Women Building the Future of Identity on the Web

Kaliya Hamlin aka Identity Woman, for the last five years has been a tireless evangelist for user-centric digital identity. She co-produces and facilitates the Internet Identity Workshop, Internet Identity Workshop the leading industry forum for working on innovation, collaboration and interoperability. This event is an unconference without a pre-planned agenda. She is regularly hired by other professional organizations and communities for her skill in design and facilitation of such events. She is also the founder of She's Geeky a women's technology unconference, and appears on Fast Company's, "The Most Influential Women in Technology: The Evangelists." Here she writes about how women are shaping the future of identity on the Web.

Women in User-Centric Identity

User-centric digital identity — yes it is a mouthful but an important one to swallow if you want to understand the future of the Web and our autonomy and freedom as netizens. Another key is open standards — widely recognized protocols that are free to use and don't give an advantage to one actor in the market or another. To what an open standard is think about HTML and CSS that are open standards for web display that anyone can build tools for and display. Flash and Screenlight, that require proprietary players and proprietary software, are not.

How can we the people, (as citizens, end-users, or consumers) have control over our own online identities in a way that gives us freedom to move them around the Web? How can we maintain persistence and control and control over what it is presented when we share aspects of our identity with others? How can we be anonymous and not have everything we do "tied" together? These are the questions we the identity community (much of it found at Identity Commons) have been tackling.

Since I was honored on the list of Fast Company Evangelists I wanted to bring attention to some of the women who have been tirelessly working in this industry niche tackling the tough challenges involved in making the vision real.


Mary Rundle was the leader of a team of authors who co-wrote the OECD paper At a Cross-roads: Personhood in the Information Society. It is a key work that helps articulate what identity is generally and what this means when we navigate cyberspace. It is valuable for both enterprises and web 2.0 companies to grock this so they don't make large social and business process errors. At the center piece of that document are:

The Properties of Identity.

Identity behaves according to a number of observable properties, as follows:
  1. Identity is social. Humans are naturally social. To engage in social interactions (including commerce) people need something that persists and that can be used as a basis for recognition of others – an "identity."
  2. Identity is subjective. Different people have different experiences with the same individual and therefore attribute different characteristics to that individual; that is, they will construct different identities for her.
  3. Identity is valuable. By building a history of a person’s past actions, exchange of identity information creates social capital and enables transactions that wouldn’t be possible without identity. In other words, identity lends predictability to afford a comfortable level of confidence for people making decisions.
  4. Identity is referential. An identity is not a person; it is only a reference to a person. Even if a person develops spin-off personas so that other people know him through those various digital identities, and even if others create profiles of a person, ultimately the collection of characteristics that signal who a person is need to point back to that person.
  5. Identity is composite. Some information about a person arises from the person himself; he volunteers it. But other information about him is developed by others without his involvement.
  6. . Identity is consequential. Because identity tells of a person’s past actions, the decision to exchange identity information carries consequences: Disclosure of identity information in a certain context can cause harm; failure to disclose identity information in another context can create risk.
  7. Identity is dynamic. Identity information is always changing; any particular identity dossier might be inaccurate at any given moment.
  8. Identity is contextual. People have different identities that they may wish to keep entirely separate. Information can be harmful in the wrong context, or it can simply be irrelevant. Keeping identities separate allows a person to have more autonomy.
  9. Identity is equivocal. The process of identification is inherently error-prone.


Eve Maler is, along with myself, another member of the Identity Super Hero Pantheon as XMLGrrl. It might be going too far to say she was the Mother of SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) however she played a critical role in helping several competing efforts come together to form this open standard that lies at the heart of enterprise identity management. She has been a proactive bridge builder between SAML and OpenID and Information Cards and is an active leader in Concordia. Last year she co-wrote a paper for IEEE called the Venn of Identity about how these different identity protocols relate.


Two women, Pamela Dingle and Mary Ruddy, are playing key roles in Information Card related projects. This is a standard just starting to emerge on the market for doing claims based identity. What is a claim? simply an assertion like:

  • I am over 18? or over 21?
  • I am a student and MLK Elementary School in Berkeley
  • I am a citizen of the US that lives in the 9th congressional district of my state

All of these would be valuable to assert in different contexts — using information cards you can get virtual cards that live in a card selector that you can choose to share with others. Equifax just launched a service to issue over 18 information cards.

Microsoft is proactive in moving this technology forward they have a card selector - CardSpace on Vista. For those of you with little red flags going up in your heads — yes we in the identity community had them too and the company, after two failures in the identity space (MSFT Passport and Hailstorm), has been a very good actor in the user-centric community led by Kim Cameron.

The Higgins Project is an open source project Co-led by Mary Ruddy, who has developed an information card selector for Adobe Air and Linux. They project has developed code to support the issuing of information cards (this code runs the Equifax information card issuing service) and an attribute server to support integration and sharing of identity related data . Mary also is the chair of the Identity Commons steward council and CEO of Meristic.

Pamela Dingle — the eternal optimist — has has spent years as an identity systems integrator. She founded the Pamela Project to build relying party code to accept information cards. That is if you have a PHP site and you want to accept information cards from people logging-in or sharing information with you — you would put her project's code on your site.


Adriana Lukas has been a driving force in the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management ) Project. She founded The Mine! project and leads the VRM Hub in London a group bringing VRM to social web, business and individuals.

The VRM Project based at the Berkman Center at Harvard was founded by Doc Searls (who along with myself and Phil Windley founded the Internet Identity Workshop). It arises out of the user-centric community but is distinct from it. The project has focused attention on developing tools and business cases for customers to manage their relationships with vendors using reciprocal set of VRM tools just as vendors have CRM (Customer Relationship Management).


Then there's Kids Online — this subject has gotten a lot of attention lately with the release of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force report. I have been working with two amazing women in this field and together the three of us produced an unconference in December called Kids Online: Balancing Safety and Fun.

Danese Tayloe is the founder and CEO of Privo. Their tools give parents tools to do permission management in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Joi Podgorny has been an online community manager for kids. Before becoming VP of Interactive Development at Ludorumhe she consulted for companies to develop and implement online strategies. Joi's leadership continues to move the group forward and is leading the effort get a podcast going. The next event will likely be in June.


Rachna Dhamija founded Usable Security Systems Inc. to apply all that she learned doing a Ph.D. in usable security. Her demo at DEMO on the front page is quite impressive and gives me hope that one day we might solve the problem of passwords.


Currently I am helping move several projects affliated with Identity Commons forward:

  • I am working with Lucy Lynch from ISOC on a conference to map the gap between Identity Technologies and different Legal Lenses ikely this Fall in DC.
  • I am spearheading efforts to call a special session of the Internet Identity Workshop to consider "What are the identity business models?" — this is likely to happen March 30-31 in the Bay Area.
  • I am working with the ID-Futures working group on plans to convene a scenario building event/workshop around Identity.
  • My next evangelism project is to bring information card technology to the nonprofit and advocacy sector.



To sum it all up, in the identity space there are five women founders and CEOs of companies, two women founders and leaders of open source projects, and three women actively involved as leaders in standards development and harmonization. If you are inspired by the projects that these women lead I invite you to learn more about the whole communities work.

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