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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Mobile Monday…a participant’s view

Posted by direwolff on May 2, 2005

Identity being federated.
Identity relating to Java and security.
Identity relating to social trends.
Identity intersecting mobility.

These were the themes raised at tonight's Mobile Monday event, (for more about Mobile Monday go here).

The first theme was discussed by Simon Nicholson from the Liberty Alliance. While this presentation had plenty to say about technology and about how financial institutions feel a desperate need to have identity issues addressed and resolved, there was little to no content on the supporting business models to bring this infrastructure about (probably why it has taken this long to still have few if any real deployments). When asked about this, Simon listed several business models, all in existence today, none requiring the level of infrastructure nor the monumental cooperation required to make the Liberty Alliance solution work. One notable comment, which seemed telling of the lack of business consideration, is that when pressed about the fact that those business models existed already, Simon explained that the connectivity relationships that exist today are only between two parties that have entered into a relationship. This as opposed to one where any party can benefit from identity sharing. He seemed to miss the point that the reason that companies connect to each other is because there's a clear business model that supports them doing so. If the Liberty Alliance had solved the business issue, I guarantee that the discussion wouldn't be about getting people to buy-in to their concept, but rather how long one would have to wait to get admitted given the backlog.

Suffice it to say, I still recall the days of the SET payment system protocol and while the Liberty Alliance started down the path of that lofty goal (I believe), they sure ended up short, and it seems shorter by the day. Nothing like getting as many big corporations into a standards setting process to make sure that it stands no chance of success. This also reminds me of the ICE vs. RSS debates for content syndication ("what's ICE?" you say?…that's my point). Instead of running this, in the words of Eric Raymond, as a bazaar (or open source project), the Liberty Alliance took the cathedral approach (monolithic standards development process) and the results show.

The next speaker was David Rivas, CTO of Sun's Client Systems Group. A very affable fellow to say the least and obviously smart about matters of identity. But he scared me. Scared me because he seemed overly enthralled with technology, giving lots of lip service to privacy, but all the while stating that "people can rely" on this or that. What was missing totally from this concept is what happens when something or someone, hacks or breaks the circle of trust which he referred to. What happens when the identity manager goes down right when I enter the hospital and can't claim my identity in order to get operated on? What happens when some piece of information was incorrectly set in my profile and it won't let me proove that my word is better than what's in my computerized file? I'd recommend that David subscribe to Bruce Schneier's Crypto-Gram e-newsletter and learn a bit more about the dangers of over dependence on compromisable authentication and identity systems. Compromise in this case doesn't have to mean someone breaking in, it can also mean wrong information making its way into one's file. For proof that this can happen, one only need look at the errors often found in credit reports and the hassle to rectify these. And don't get me started on ChoicePoint.

David also had some tech and geek centric description for community which seemed to work as a justification for his identity solutions, but missed the point that none of what he was proposing was needed for communities to form and prosper online or off. Actually, in most communities, knowing someone's real identity is not necessary, only their identity and reputation as it relates to that community is truly important. For example, I use different aliases across the different communities that I participate in and maintain an appropriate reputation in each. These do not need to cross over, nor would I want them to, nor would it be important for someone to know my multiple identities. Some times it felt like David's idealized world, was how should I say it, a bit too idealized.

Finally, he made some statements about the fact that content will rule the future of mobile operators and that they will be forced to open up. As examples of why this would happen, he cited the ISP battle in the early 90s and the Web browser wars that followed. I believe David once again missed the point. In these two sets of battles, they were really dealing in open standards. The protocols that underlied ISPs was TCP/IP, those underlying the Web were HTTP and HTML. With the wireless operators, they control the pipes and can exclude any content that they feel threatened by. Given that there are really 3 significant players (after the consolidation), I'd say this fight is more analogous to IM, where Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN are still all incompatible after all these years. Having spoken to some carriers, I'd say that David is missing the boat on this one, even if they all use Java.

Well, those were the speakers whose motives and rhetoric struck me as off the mark. By contrast, the following two were quite the opposite and a breath of fresh air.

First came Amy Jo Kim, author among other things, of "Community Building on the Web". She focused on discussing what was happening with the demographic group known as "Young Mobiles", defined as young people aged 15 to 24. She talked about how they were using mobile devices and provided several valuable examples of services. One that came up a few times was dodgeball which touches on various mobility issues for young people.

She broke down five key areas where there would continue to be lots of activity in the mobile application space:

1) Fluid self-organizing groups and networks (ie. TXTmob)
2) Media sharing tools & apps (ie. textamerica moblog ratings/contests)
3) Location-enhanced services (ie. dating/flirting, tresure hunt game)
4) Mobile powered Interactive TV (ie. Big Brother (UK), American Idol (U.S.)
5) Female-centric mobile games and apps (ie. Ms. Pacman, MetroGirl, Girls Night Out, Beweled, Atkins 2-Go, Word Heaven)

She also mentioned something new coming in the area of Fantasy Soap Leagues. Some what analogous to Fantase sports teams but with a twist that she couldn't discuss. What a tease :-)
Her session was super informative and she really presented some solid data.

And finally, not to be out done nor left behind, Marc Canter took the stage. As always he was provocative, outspoken, but with his usual mix of knowing he's right and making a lot of sense. Marc talked about the idea of open source infrastructure that would enable all of the identity initiatives co-exist. Basically, he was taking the position that Simon had not, regarding how to pursue true interoperability. He did throw out some kudos to an announcement that Microsoft expects to make in the next few weeks that could move us towards the backbone necessary to make the identity interoperability work.

Marc further elaborated on how companies like Amazon, Google, and Yahoo!, by their open APIs were already playing in a Web 2.0 world, and that such is the mantra that others need to take. However, when pressed on the issue of business models for justifying the common interface layer for all identity services, he couldn't really answer to this. What was of course tough to address is that each of the companies listed above have vested interest in providing open APIs. Primarily, it's that their business models are supported by this. When people create apps that rely on Amazon's API, the resulting transaction is through Amazon. Hence, their web services offering fully supports their business model. This isn't necessarily the case for the existing social networking services.

Regardless, Marc's points were dead on as it related to whether we should really care about this or not. His analogy is that much as we don't spend much time thinking about printing or accessing CD-ROMs, we won't give much thought to the idea of identity services. Of course, no Canter presentation would be complete without some discussion on Digital Lifestyle Aggregators (DLA) as a means for managing our multiple personas, enabling people to subscribe to parts of people (ie. subscribe to my recommendations but not to blog). He also raised this in the context of mobile devices being just one of many devices and modalities that we will operate under and so DLA's should be supported here too.

All-in-all, between Amy and Marc, the night was a success despite its slow start. Definitely a worthwhile event to attend with lots of very intelligent people in the audience who appear to be doing lots of cool things in the mobile space.

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