Kim writes: “The problem is that - at the same time - one way to do identity is too few. And this is what explains why the creation of a universal system of identity is one of the greatest challenges blocking the evolution of technology and the virtual world.”
Kim goes on to cite the idea of pluralism as a law relating to identity systems, but it is more widely applicable than that. One way is always too few ways to do anything. Evolution demands diversity, survival all the more so. Doc goes into this at length, adding:
First, politics hasn’t spoiled identity yet, because identity has hardly started as a topic, much less as a useful service for anybody on the Net. For all the effort that’s gone into identity, it’s still newer than RSS was when it still stood for Rich Site Summary (or whatever it was) rather than the Really Simple Syndication all of us bloggers employ today. And while the Liberty Alliance its participants deserve credit for all their work around federation, that’s still mostly BigCo stuff that benefits us as individuals mostly on the back ends of our relationships with various companies. We need something that works for us, as individuals, in a simple and obvious way.
Second, identity won’t happen as a service unless it comes up from the grass roots, from independent developers, the users who support them, and the big guys who follow indie developers and users into the marketplace. (Think about how the big publishers have deployed RSS, for example.)
I argue that politics is precisely what is saving identity from BigCo solutions.
In a situation where BigCo solutions are eschewed either for their failure to convince users or users’ concern about ceding power to a centralized entity, it is grassroots dissent that prevents a victory by those entities. It would be a good idea to recognize that pluralism is politics and embrace the debate as essentially good. I know what Doc means by “politics,” but that’s not politics, it’s market power, which is unrepresentative when existing influence is used to prevent competitors from introducing alternative options into technical standards or products.
If we get past damning politics by recognizing that the structure of the debate is what defines its value—an open exchange is far more egalitarian than a closed, industry-led one—we can tap the human passion for participation to reinvigorate standards setting and much more.
I will now remove my Semantics Police hat.
Now, from my identity thinking cap: An identity infrastructure needs a fundamental schema, but it must be extensible, so that every system introduced can communicate basic information while adding functionality. The debate need not revolve about what is included, rather it is best conducted in terms of what should be excluded in order to reduce that fundamental schema to the absolute essentials. The result will be a system in which we move between identity infrastructures, becoming more or less identifiable in different contexts; the idea that some of us will be identified one way and others another—that a competition between infrastructures will result in a winner—is misguided.