I've really appreciated the interest and support of our writer colleagues – people who know how to find the story in our reality, and then, to tell it. When John Fontana called me about doing a profile, I thought it would be a way to move our identity project forward. In fact, it's a long time since I'd done anything quite so personal – but knowing what a straight-shooter John is, I went with the flow.
Even so, I hope people can imagine my complete astonishment when, the day after Christmas, I read the following:
Kim Cameron: Identity's god
Chief architect of access at Microsoft has galvanized an industry behind his ‘Seven Laws of Identity.’
By John Fontana, Network World, 12/26/05
Kim Cameron isn't on a mission from God, but he once played guitar with some guys who were.
As a 20-something in the mid-1970s and the guitarist for Limbo Springs, a band he formed with friends, Cameron played at Toronto's exclusive Cheetah Club behind such luminaries as John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, a k a the Blues Brothers. While those two later starred in a same-named movie in which they proclaimed their mission was blessed by the Almighty, Cameron's future was guided by an electronic deity, the microcomputer.
Today, the 57-year-old Cameron, who admits to a lingering addiction to music played at ear-splitting volumes, heads all things identity at Microsoft.
In 2005, he galvanized the industry around a discussion of digital identity with his publication of “Seven Laws of Identity.” Cameron has wired together a virtual who's who as part of an everyone-invited effort to define the science of identity and how to apply it to computing. The list includes his boss, Bill Gates; open source leaders, Microsoft bashers and academics, such as legal scholar Lawrence Lessig.
“To me, it is clear that all their interests must be served for progress to be made. There is so much distrust across the industry. I try to keep away from any kind of ideology and aim right at what can happen,” Cameron says. Two things he learned with Limbo Springs, communication skills and the ability to dodge flying beer bottles, have helped him pull people together and deal with the instantaneous and often abrupt feedback of today's blogosphere, Cameron says.
Putting anything together, or more accurately putting anything back together, has not always been Cameron's forte. As a boy who grew up living all over Canada, following a father who was an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, Cameron was fascinated with disassembling electronics. “I had this little weirdness. I liked to invent machines. I scavenged old radios and televisions and made transmitters and things,” says Cameron, whose ever-present chuckle signals that he takes himself less seriously than he does his work.
Despite hating arithmetic, Cameron graduated from King's College, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a bachelor's degree in physics and math at the age of 19. “I loved slide rules – the first computers I saw. They used to fascinate me, since I could then do physics largely without arithmetic,” Cameron says.
He immediately dove into work on his master's degree in physics, gained unfettered late-night access to the school's mainframe and became one of the first teenage hackers at a time when computers were a mystery. “No one knew what I was doing, and if I told them, they ran away,” he says.
But it was the late 1960s, and a love interest led Cameron from geekdom to philosophy, which landed him at the University of Paris. In 1970, he entered Montreal University, where he worked on a doctorate thesis around computer simulations of social phenomena. He also lectured at the university and two others. But mainframe access was difficult, so Cameron hooked up with Limbo Springs to recapture the teenage years lost to his studies.
After a few years touring, Limbo Springs settled in as the house band at the Cheetah Club. Eventually lured away by the microcomputer, Cameron was soon running the academic computing center at George Brown University, Canada's largest community college.
Cameron's identity fascination was born in 1984, when he realized a directory was needed for an e-mail platform he and a colleague were developing. They dropped e-mail, then pioneered and defined a metadirectory, called Zoomit. They sold the company in 1999 to Microsoft. “I believed Microsoft would be the best company to deliver the identity infrastructure. It's taking a while, but I still think it will happen,” he says.
Cameron is busy making it happen. In 2003, he quietly went public with a technology he developed called InfoCard, which lets users control their identity information and is now a cornerstone of Microsoft's identity strategy.
In May 2005, his “Seven Laws of Identity,” delivered with Cameron's knack for turning the complex into the understandable, was the lighthouse that guided the industry to the shores of meaningful progress.
“Kim is the great includer,” says Doc Searls, Linux advocate, prolific blogger and senior editor at Linux Journal. “He is equally brilliant and engaging, first-rate as a technologist and as a human being.” Without Cameron “we'd be years away from where we got just in the last year,” he adds.
Cameron's own identity is one marked by a love of all types of music and cooking, especially complicated dishes that absorb his attention and relax him. Being a father has helped teach him patience, a trait that has been invaluable in his identity work through the years, he says.
Although he often wakes at 4 a.m. to work, he doesn't classify it as a chore. “For me, this isn't work,” says Cameron, who takes several hours each day just to read and think. “I once asked an artist friend how he could just keep painting and painting. He just said, ‘I'm an artist, so I paint.’ It's like that. I just do what I do.”
Well, the cat's out of the bag. Now everyone knows I'm not 39.
But let me reassure everyone I that I don't really think of myself as an identity god. If I were, we'd have an identity layer for the internet by now.
Anyway, could anyone ask for better colleagues and friends than people like Doc Searls? With people like that on “the train” with you, how can you go wrong?
Still, this identity thing is hard, and has taken a long time. Nor is it over yet. There are still a lot of things that can go wrong. It can't be done by any one person, or any one vendor, or any one government or country. But I really think that with all our Identity 2.0 friends we can get to our destination.
Finally, thanks to John Fontana and his editors for this wonderful honor.