#25: “An ‘Open’ Letter to the Obama Administration”

Last Friday, Joseph, John and I recorded episode #25 of

Besides shout outs to and Janrain for their stats on third-party account login usage, we discussed how the Obama administration might better make use of or leverage elements of the Open Stack — specifically OpenID.

Where we’re going with Activity Streams

The DiSo Project is just over a year old. It’s remained a somewhat amorphous blob of related ideas, concepts and aspirations in my brain, but has resulted in some notable progress, even if such progress appears dubious on the surface.

For example, OAuth is a core aspect of DiSo because it enables site-to-site permissioning and safer data access. It’s not because of the DiSo Project that OAuth exists, but my involvement in the protocol certainly stems from the goals that I have with DiSo. Similarly, Portable Contacts emerged (among other things) as a response to Microsoft’s “beautiful fucking snowflakecontacts API, but it will be a core component of our efforts to distribute and decentralize social networking. And meanwhile, OpenID has had momentum and a following all its own, and yet it too fits into the DiSo model in my head, as a cornerstone technology on which much of the rest relies.

Subscribing to a person

Tonight I gave a talk specifically about activity streams. I’ve talked about them before, and I’ve written about them as well. But I think things started to click tonight for people for some reason. Maybe it was the introduction of the mocked up interface above (thanks Jyri!) that shows how you could consume activities based on human-readable content types, rather than by the service name on which they were produced. Maybe it was providing a narrative that illustrated how these various discreet and abstract technologies can add up to something rather sensible and desirable (and looks familiar, thanks to Facebook Connect).

In any case, I won’t overstate my point, but I think the work that we’ve been doing is going to start accelerating in 2009, and that the activity streams project, like OAuth before, will begin to grow legs.

And if I haven’t made it clear what I’m talking about, well, we’re starting with an assumption that activities (like the ones in Facebook’s newsfeed and that make up the bulk of FriendFeed’s content) are kind of like the synaptic electrical impulses that make social networking work. Consider that people probably read more Twitter content these days than they do conventional blog posts — if only because, with so much more content out there, we need more smaller bite-sized chunks of information in order to cope.

FriendFeed - Add/Edit ServicesSo starting there, we need to look at what it would take to recreate efficient and compelling interfaces for activity streams like we’re used to on FriendFeed and Facebook, but without the benefit of having ever seen any of the services before. I call this the “zero knowledge test”. Let me elaborate.

When I say “without the benefit of having ever seen”, I primarily mean from a programmatic standpoint. In other words, what would it take to be able to deliver an equivalent experience to FriendFeed without hardcoding support for only a few of the more popular services (FriendFeed currently supports 59 out of the thousands of candidate sites out there)? What would we need in a format to be able to join, group, de-dupe, and coalesce individual activities and otherwise make the resulting output look human readable?

Our approach so far has been to research and document what’s already out there (taking a hint from the microformats process). We’ve then begun to specify different approaches to solving this problem, from machine tags to microformats to extending ATOM (or perhaps RSS?).

Of course, we really just need to start writing some code. But fortunately with products like Motion in the wild and plugins like Action Stream, we at least have something to start with. Now it’s just a matter of rinse, wash and repeat.

Announcing my candidacy for the board of the OpenID Foundation

My campaign has launched

This is the statement (credit to Michael Richardson for my campaign slogan) that I submitted to answer the call, nominating myself as a candidate for community representative to the OpenID Foundation board:

I have long been involved with the OpenID community and have advocated for its adoption ever since I discovered it. It is a central building block of the emerging Open Stack and of the DiSo Project, an effort that I co-founded to create reusable components for decentralized social networking.

To get right to it: I’m running for a seat on the OpenID board because I believe that there is a need for change, for evolution, for setting a clear direction, and a need for a passionate rededication to the promise that OpenID represents.

Above all else, I also believe that the OpenID brand needs to be strengthened to mean something specific, in the same way that brands like Visa and Mastercard now, many years after their introduction, indicate the ability to use an abstract identifier (like a piece of plastic) to access something of value (namely, your accounts). In the case of OpenID, for some, it may mean connecting with friends or pulling in photos or bookmarks from one’s favorite services. It may also simply mean not having to get another password, or it might provide a more convenient way to identify yourself. But bottom line, the Foundation needs to see through OpenID becoming a strong and recognizable consumer brand.

To do this, we need to:

1) I believe that we must make OpenID more usable, but I also believe we must enhance the value of having an OpenID in the first place. Single sign-on is not enough. Facebook Connect demonstrates real value for both relying parties and for Facebook account owners; OpenID must mean more to people than one less password — it has to be seen as a vehicle leading to the socialization of the web in a way that’s meaningful, durable, and that enhances individual choice — and therefore, freedom.

2) Over the past year, we have chalked up high level support from such companies, and though their support is invaluable, we must continue to increase our visibility and credibility by consistently becoming more inclusive, more diverse and more expansive in our reach. The OpenID community needs to organize itself as an ally to developers, designers, relying parties, businesses, governments, municipalities, and educational institutions, and move beyond the emphasis on large internet companies.

To make OpenID more usable and valuable:

a) To this end, I believe that the Foundation should commission an ongoing series of general user studies on trends in online identity management and conduct surveys on OpenID brand awareness, OpenID usability, virtual identity internalization, and online social behavior. The Foundation should endeavor to become an authoritative source of knowledge, understanding and best practices for creating identity solutions for people on the social web.

b) Personally, I would like to improve the state of the OpenID web site and use of social media. I’ve done quite a bit of work marshalling communities with social software and am happy to take on such responsibilities.

c) I also believe that further progress must be made to harmonize OpenID and OAuth, and that the work that Google has spearheaded in this regard is critical.

d) I would like to centralize the OpenID libraries, either on Google Code or GitHUB, and through the existing bounty program, incentivize the development of optmized language-specific libraries, as we have done with the OAuth community. This effort would be incomplete without the development of a test suite and series of test servers against which various libraries and implementations could be tested.

To help expand scope, reach, visibility of OpenID:

a) To do this, we must develop 21st century trademark guidelines, as Mozilla has, that enable us to maintain the integrity of the name and the mark, while also supporting widespread publishing and promotion of the mark, through non-commercial grassroots communities and networks, just like the Firefox brand. As a former community admin of the Spread Firefox project, I can confidently lend my experience here.

c) There is a need for more decentralized *camp-style events that promote solutions built on Open Stack technologies like OpenID, and we need to increase our presense and marketing materials at popular trade events both within and beyond the web community. I have proposed to O’Reilly a full day of workshops at the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo event in San Francisco and have initiated a conversation with Wired to develop a series of tutorials for their Webmonkey How-to wiki. We need to move beyond web-based outreach and marketing and start encouraging involvement in OpenID from folks in the real world.

d) Along with improving OpenID in desktop contexts and mobile devices, I think that OpenID can become useful in console gaming situations, just as people have become used to the idea of Wii Codes and Xbox gamertags (why aren’t those OpenIDs?!).

OpenID is at a critical juncture, and with the right people involved, the OpenID Foundation and its supporters will usher in the future of the free and open social web. Recent conversations have convinced me that the role of the boardmember brings with it a certain visibility, responsibility, and an opportunity to lead from within that would provide me with a platform to be more effective and to realize my aspirations for OpenID more quickly. I am also impressed by the caliber of individuals running for the board (though I would have preferred to see a more diverse pool of candidates, since OpenID isn’t only used by male internet users). And to put my candidacy in context, I want to make it clear that I will continue to advocate for and advance the cause of OpenID whether or not I am selected to the board.

Nominations close on Monday and I need at least two seconds to be eligible to be voted on. Voting begins on Dec 10 and ends Dec 24, with the results of the election being announced by Dec 31.

In order to vote in the election, you’ll need an OpenID and membership in the OpenID Foundation (which will run you $25). But if you really need a reason to spend $25 and vote for me, here it is:

Now, this is a story all about how My life got flipped-turned upside down. And I liked to take a minute Just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air. In west Philadelphia — born and raised. On the playground was where I spent most of my days Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’, all cool and all shootin some b-ball outside of the school, when a couple of guys who were up to no good startin making trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight and my mom got scared She said ‘You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air’.

I begged and pleaded with her day after day, but she packed my suitcase and sent me on my way. She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket. I put my walkman on and said, ‘I might as well kick it’. First class, (yo this is bad), drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass. Is this what the people of Bel-Air living like? Hmmmmm this might be alright. But wait I hear they’re prissy, wine all that. Is Bel-Air the type of place they send this cool cat? I don’t think so I’ll see when I get there I hope they’re prepared for the prince of Bel-Air.

Well, the plane landed and when I came out there was a dude who looked like a cop standing there with my name out. I ain’t trying to get arrested, I just got here! I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared! I whistled for a cab and when it came near, the license plate said fresh and it had dice in the mirror. If anything, I can say this cab is rare! But I thought ‘Nah forget it’ – ‘Yo homes to Bel Air!’ I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8 And I yelled to the cabbie ‘Yo homes smell ya later’ I looked at my kingdom I was finally there to sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air.

OpenID usability is not an oxymoron

Julie Zhou of Facebook discusses usability findings from Facebook Connect.
Julie Zhou of Facebook discusses usability findings from Facebook Connect. Photo © John McCrea. All rights reserved.

See? We're working on this! Monday last week marked the first ever OpenID UX Summit at Yahoo! in Sunnyvale with over 40 in attendance. Representatives came from MySpace, Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Vidoop, Janrain, Six Apart, AOL, Chimp, Magnolia, Microsoft, Plaxo, Netmesh, Internet 2 and Liberty Alliance to debate and discuss how best to make implementations of the protocol easier to use and more familiar.

John McCrea covered the significance of the summit on TechCrunchIT (and recognized Facebook’s welcomed participation) and has a good overall summary on his blog.

While the summit was a long-overdue step towards addressing the clear usability issues directly inhibiting the spread of OpenID, there are four additional areas that I think need more attention. I’ll address each separately. Continue reading “OpenID usability is not an oxymoron”