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Digital Identities

Moderator Rafe Needleman works as editor for CNet’s Business Buying Advice. Marc Canter is CEO of Broadband Mechanics. Andre Durand serves as CEO for Ping ID. Dirk Hardt founded and works as CEO for Sxip Networks. And Philip Rosedale is CEO of Linden Lab. What follows is a partial transcript of their Supernova panel discussion: Rafe Needleman: We are here to talk about digital identity.

Moderator Rafe Needleman works as editor for CNet’s Business Buying Advice. Marc Canter is CEO of Broadband Mechanics. Andre Durand serves as CEO for Ping ID. Dirk Hardt founded and works as CEO for Sxip Networks. And Philip Rosedale is CEO of Linden Lab. What follows is a partial transcript of their Supernova panel discussion:

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Rafe Needleman: We are here to talk about digital identity. I’m going to ask Marc to define digital identity. Just kidding. We’ve talked a lot today about connecting. I don’t want to get into the meaning of digital identity, but how do we use them? How do we manage them? Sadly, there are as many solutions for managing identities as there are identities. Let’s talk about bringing identities together while remaining cognizant of user confusion.

Dick Hardt: My number one identity pet peeve is having to type in my username and password in all these different sites.

Andre Durand: I hate new user registration forms.

Philip Rosedale: I usually don’t have my credit card handy.

Marc Canter: Once I’ve built up a social network and relationships with people, I want to be able to move them. They are my relationships. I’m involved with a standard called FOAF — friend of a friend. It would be a perfect interchange format for moving entire social networks between systems. The problem that we confronted is that FOAF is a research project. People who go to the FOAF page are told arcane things that have nothing to do with productizing.

Rosedale: Our company is a highly plastic online world. When we talk about building, you’re building data. Its mobility is certainly a concern, but it’s also a concern how it gets constructed. Usually, it gets created explicitly. You write it. We work in a digital world that’s transparent. And we can build social networks implicitly by watching the data. We can construct Esther’s social spreadsheet from four or five different angles.

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Durand: If I log into my computer, I want to log into my cell phone. I shouldn’t have to log into multiple applications. That’s cross-boundary provisioning.

Hardt: A lot of the protocols tend to be top down. Coming from the open source world and the Perl world, what do the users need? There isn’t a map between the technology and what people actually do online. To get to a solution that’s going to work long term, we need to get beyond what enterprises are needing.

Needleman: I know Andre and Philip have customers. The other two, it sounds like you’re doing incredible things, but how do you make money?

Canter: I’m a user of these systems. I’m a developer who uses these platforms. And if you listen to Doc Searls, it’s about what the users need. This is core to digital lifestyle aggregation. I’m a user of these systems, and I want to make sure there are some open standards so I can move stuff back and forth. I’m a constituent.

Hardt: And I’m trying to take a long view of all these things. Our business model at Sxip is operating a thin network like DNS and people pay a slight fee to be part of that network. We have a low barrier to entry but an ambitious goal of ubiquity.

Durand: From an enterprise perspective, they’re not interested today in a dynamic federation. What you find is much more hard coded and purposeful. A company internally or with partners has a couple of applications and just wants single sign on. Weve characterized the phases of enterprise adoption kind of like a petri dish. There’s going to be a lot of overlap. Where there’s a real difference and where there might be a lot of utility, Dick, is with the smaller Web sites and properties.

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Canter: It’s important to be aware of what’s going on politically, as Andre and Dick just represented two perspectives. I’ll represent a third. There is no authentication to FOAF. There is no security. It’s just an object wrapper. We could work with either system.

Needleman: In the end, where will identity reside?

Canter: There’s no question. It should reside with the user.

Needleman: But where will it?

Canter: Whatever. Own it yourself. These things are ethereal, and they’re only as good as people coming back.

Durand: Your digital identity is a collection of accounts. What will end up happening is that several years out, most of these accounts will adopt a shared identity. Myself and a company will agree to interact based on that identity. If you think of the world as a collection of attributes, some of which are in my control and some of which are shared control, what will end up happening is that the movement of attributes among companies will be controlled by the user. We don’t manage our identities in a holistic sense. We manage them based on one relationship with one company.

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Rosedale: Isn’t the shape of your online identity and network in some ways a creative work? You’re making these connections. It seems like a creative work. But where will it land? Historically, where you give more creative control to people making things, there ends up to be more collective benefit.

Hardt: But we don’t even really own our identity. My identity is based on what I do, but also on what other people think and say about me.

David Weinberger: But who owns the information about our relationships? Isn’t that about to be established by Congress in such a way that the owner of the database owns it?

Hardt: Owning information isn’t the same as having the right to use that information.